Much like the side-effects of a drug, the genetic mutations caused by radioactive exposure, or the reduction of brain-cells inflicted by prolonged contact with Kyle Sandilands’ radio show, the extent of a filmmaker’s influence can sometimes take years to register. Although it’s been several decades since the release of Steven Spielberg‘s watershed blockbusters Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, we are beginning to see up-and-coming directors who were clearly inspired by his works growing up. So much so, three pictures released in 2011 are blatant homages to his oeuvre: J.J. Abrams‘ Super 8, Joe Cornish‘s Attack the Block, and Spielberg’s own Indiana Jones tribute The Adventures of Tintin, also penned by Cornish. (He can hardly be described as an up-and-comer, but it’s interesting to note that even Spielberg is nostalgic for Spielberg movies.)
Super 8 and Attack the Block are more concerned with aping Amblin’s E.T., and though the two of them share that in common, the final products couldn’t be more different. Whereas Super 8 was a wistful, wide-eyed and sweet-natured bike-ride through the imagined America of Spielberg’s memories, Attack the Block is a ferocious and darkly comic horror film in which a group of disenfranchised South London youths temporarily put aside their social rebellion to fend off extraterrestrial invaders. See? Similar, but different.
Talented newcomer John Boyega stars (and becomes a star) as teen gang leader Moses, who hangs out with his band of wannabe crims at their lower-class housing estate. The fivesome take to the streets to cause all kinds of ruckus; notably sticking up frightened nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker). When an intergalactic visitor crash lands in their block and serendipitously breaks up the robbery, Moses takes it upon himself to wipe out the trespasser. Once successful, the boys stalk the streets proudly displaying their kill for all to see, and even challenging the late alien’s family and friends to avenge his death. Challenge accepted.
That’s all we really get in terms of plot, but it’s also all we need. The second act is a mad dash through the projects, with a bunch of bloodthirsty beasties chasing our anti-heroes around their eponymous block. Stuck with a small budget, Cornish and his effects team work magic with the creature designs. I won’t spoil their look here as their eventual reveal provides quite a payoff, but it’s an ingenious, scary, and memorable movie monster they’ve created.
The finale is wholly satisfying, with the morally-dubious Moses learning the true cost of his reckless ways. Having this occasionally unsympathetic thug as our main protagonist is a brave choice, and it’s one that separates Attack the Block from lesser ‘group-of-kids-band-together’ adventures. Moses’ evolution from villain to hero feels genuine, and even if the picture can’t quite muster up devastating social commentary, it gives us plenty of realistic and engaging characters to enjoy spending time with.
First-time feature director Cornish shows off impressive action chops, and his script is littered with comic gems (delivered with precision by his cast). The Spielberg allusions are obvious, but Attack the Block is also its own thing; a consistently entertaining, hilarious and sometimes scary thing. Will this be one of those films that inspires teenagers to pick up a camera and make an adventure flick of their own? Check back in thirty years.
Attack the Block arrives in Australian cinemas December 1, 2011.