Attack the Block

Fans of Doctor Who, at least those without an unreasoning dislike of Jodie Whittaker, may get a kick out of seeing her in the 2011 British alien invasion film Attack the Block. It’s a small rather unregarded film with a box office return of only half its £8 million budget (about $11 million USD at 2021 rates). Since its release it has gotten well-deserved critical praise and won a few international accolades.

I should note that Whittaker is not the lead. At best, she’s a co-star, and perhaps almost more of a major supporting character (she is present for most of the film). The film stars John Boyega, who many will know as Finn from the final Star Wars trilogy.

I highly recommend it for all science fiction movie fans.

My tastes admittedly aren’t mainstream, but I think it’s vastly superior to the usual big budget crowd pleasers, which I often see as akin to those mass-produced store-bought cakes slathered in icing made from sugar, lard, and air. (I love a good frosting, but that stuff is wretched.)

Big budget movies, like fast food hamburgers, are meant to sell to millions, so they necessarily lack real character or serious depth. Small movies, like small restaurants, cater to connoisseurs and gourmets — those who love good food or good stories, especially those that are a bit unique. Such movies are often singular visionary works, which is almost a guarantee they won’t appeal to mass audiences.

Anyway,…

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Attack the Block is an alien invasion movie that, as is usually the case, focuses on the group of humans who try to fight them off.

Zombie movies have similar structure, and there is a bit more of a connection in this case. This movie was produced by Nira Park who first produced what I think is one of the best zombie films ever made: Shaun of the Dead (2004). She also produced several other movies by director/writer Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost: Hot Fuzz (2007), Paul (2011), and The World’s End (2013). (All of which I recommend. They aren’t, perhaps, great films, but they are a lot of fun and worth seeing.)

This one is written and directed by Joe Cornish, who has a long history in comedy as half the duo Adam and Joe (according to Wikipedia; I’m not familiar with their work).

This is his first film, although he, along with Edgar Wright, was a writer for The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Ant-Man (2015). His second film (of only two so far) is The Kid Who Would Be King (2019), which was co-produced by Nira Park. (Of the three, I’ve only seen Ant-Man, and I liked that one more than I do most superhero movies.)

The point is, firstly, Cornish has some excellent experience and associates, and secondly, very often first films by visionaries are something special and worth seeing. (Good examples include: Clerks (1994), the first movie by Kevin Smith; El Mariachi (1992), the first film by Robert Rodriguez; and Reservoir Dogs (1992), the first film by Quentin Tarantino. By no means an exhaustive list.)

Anyway,…

§

The film takes place on Guy Fawkes Night (think Fourth of July crossed with Halloween). Samantha Adams (Jodie Whittaker) is a trainee nurse leaving hospital after a grueling night (Fourth of July in the USA is also a big night for emergency rooms; so is Halloween).

On her way home she’s mugged by a group of tough teens and just before things get really dicey with their knife-wielding leader, a meteor falls and crashes into a nearby parked car (pretty much destroying it and setting up one of the later small gags).

Samantha encounters the gang on her way home from hospital.

In the confusion Samantha escapes (minus her wallet and a ring she values) while the toughs investigate the crashed car. The group’s leader, Moses (John Boyega), investigates and encounters… he’s not sure what, a rabid monkey-dog or something? It attacks him, but he manages to kill it.

Whatever it is, it’s gross and really stinks, and none of them has ever seen anything like it. The group is comprised of what are sometimes called “disadvantaged” or “at risk” youths — most of them Black, all of them very poor.

So they take the carcass to their weed dealer/grower, Ron (Nick Frost) and his boss, a local gang leader, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) — neither of whom know quite what to make of it either.

Left to right: Moses, Samantha, and Leeon (who doesn’t survive).

In the meantime, many more meteors fall from the sky but go largely unnoticed due to all the fireworks. As it turns out, each is another alien.

What they all finally decide is that the one Moses killed is a female, and the others are all males on the scent for mating. (There’s a bit of convenient background TV about moths that operate in a similar manner — the female traveling a long distance to new territory with lots of males following her pheromones.)

The males, with super-black fur, no eyes, and big glowing teeth, are much harder to kill and will stop at nothing to find the female (which is stashed in the most secure place they know — the weed growing room — which naturally is sealed against scents getting out). But the female’s scent is all over the youths, so the males are attacking them.

Moses being chased by the alien males.

Everyone is up for a fight, and they’re not going to let these monsters take over their territory, but, as the situation gets more dire, fear begins to take over, and the fun and hope of being heroes turns to flight and a fight for their lives.

After one of their members is bitten, they remember the gal they mugged earlier is a nurse (they went through her wallet), so they seek her out to render aid.

Samantha isn’t happy to see them, and doesn’t believe their story, until one of the alien males smashes into her apartment. They kill that one, but others are on the way, so they have to flee. She soon learns how young they all are. They apologize for mugging her. If they had known she lived in “the block” (a high-rise public housing building, what Americans might refer to as “the projects”), they wouldn’t have mugged her. Ultimately she bands together with the gang as they try to survive the night.

§

I won’t spoil the ending, because you should see it for yourself. It started off a bit rocky for me, but the longer I watched, the more I liked it. When it ended I experienced that emotional wave of Damn that was a good movie!!”

I’m inclined to give it a small Wow! rating. It’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Definitely recommended for any fan of alien invasion movies.

It features a mostly Black cast, and we need more well-done SF movies like that. John Boyega kinda steals the show, but the supporting cast is quite good, too.

The film has a 90% (critics)-75% (audience) rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 75 metascore on Metacritic. (This is a case where the critics had more sense than the audience.)

§ §

Speaking of science fiction films that didn’t do that well, I finally saw Dredd (2012), which stars Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby. This one at least earned back its budget, but only just.

It’s the remake of every so slightly more successful Judge Dredd (1995), starring Sylvester Stallone along with Diane Lane, Armand Assante, Rob Schneider, and Max von Sydow.

I have a major soft spot for Judge Dredd, although as over-the-top goofy 1990s SF action films go, my favorite will always be Demolition Man (1993), also starring Stallone along with Sandra Bullock, Wesley Snipes, Denis Leary, and others you’d recognize. In fact, it’s one of my overall favorite films. Stallone and Bullock are just hysterical together, and the script is really clever.

Judge Dredd was more serious than Demolition Man, but Schneider provided some light touches, and the film is still a bit tongue-in-cheek. As I’ve often said, the key with movies like these is not taking yourself too seriously because, let’s face it, this shit is preposterous.

Dredd was… okay. It’s more a shootem-up action film than the original was with not a lot of plot. (It strikes me as an American gun-toting version of the martial arts film The Raid (2011), which was brutal awesomeness. Given the respective dates, I can’t help but wonder if it influenced Dredd.)

I will say this about Dredd: With some films I find a lot to be derisive about, but while there was some silly stuff in Dredd, nothing really really set me off about it. It takes itself too seriously, it really could have used a Rob Schneider, and I like Diane Lane’s character more than Olivia Thirlby’s. The weakest part of the film is that the latter has convenient psychic powers. They work when the plot needs them to, otherwise not so much.

I give it an Eh! rating.

§ §

A question I have about Attack the Block is how do the aliens get back into space after mating with the female? They don’t seem to have ships. They apparently drift through space until they find a planet worth… infesting? taking over? just mating on?

This seems to assume they have some way to get back into space to perpetuate the cycle.

I forget where, but there was a science fiction story with trees that could launch into space like rockets (very potent sap!). Their seeds would drift and eventually land on another planet to repeat the cycle.

But there’s no obvious way these aliens could get into orbit, let alone escape a star system. Maybe the female lays some kind of super eggs with launch capability?

Stay away from aliens, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

8 responses to “Attack the Block

  • Wyrd Smythe

    FWIW, I saw Attack the Block on Hulu, but it isn’t there anymore. Dredd still is, though.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    I saw the second half of Attack the Block when it came on TV, stumbling across it while channel surfing. The first thing that caught my attention were the aliens, which seemed very Doctor Who like. Then I found myself staring at a couple of the characters trying to figure out where I knew them from, before it clicked. I had never heard of the movie before. I did enjoy that second half. Your write up filled in some gaps in my understanding of what was going on.

    I found Dredd entertaining, but it was probably too dark for most audiences, particularly those whose only exposure to Judge Dredd was the original Stallone movie. And I think they held back too much of the world, trusting that they’d get to widen the scope in sequels. But you don’t get to make sequels if the initial movie isn’t profitable.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      It does end up making the movie feel claustrophobic. Attack the Block also takes place in a high-rise, but has plenty of action outside to open the film up.

      Judge Dredd and Dredd are both based on the comic, which I’ve never read, so I have no idea how faithful either are to the source or what elements are new fabrications. I wondered about Judge Anderson’s psychic abilities, for instance. There’s nothing like that in the first film.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        My exposure to the Judge Dredd comics was through reprints in the US that only gave fragments of the overall arc. (The reprints had to be in magazines because they didn’t adhere to the CCA.) From what I recall of them, Dredd more accurately captures the tone of the comic, its heavy dystopian and Dirty-Harry-on-steroids nature. Together with its art style, which I recall displaying the characters in a heavily caricatured manner, the comic didn’t appeal to me much.

        I think you’re right that adding Schneider and humor overall to the Stallone movie made the dystopian setting easier to bear. But it’s interesting that neither movie was really successful financially. In the case of the Stallone film, it might be because it just came out too early, before most audiences were ready for that kind of story. Although there’s never a guarantee that what makes a successful comic franchise will have the mass appeal a movie needs.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I went and looked at the Wiki page for the comic to see if psychics were mentioned, and they are. In fact, according to one person involved with the comic, Dredd is closer to it in tone and spirit than Judge Dredd was. Both that page and the Wiki page for Dredd mention the efforts the more recent movie took to make things more realistic, which is very much in the modern vein.

        Yet, as I’ve said many times, I think that realism is a mistake on several counts, even though it does seem to appeal to modern audiences. Whatever. To my eyes, just another example of how modern culture has become mired and lost in fantasy bullshit — a long-held opinion that seems well justified by current events.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        I think we’ve discussed before how audiences’ demands for realism versus escapism tend to vary according to how things are going in the real world. During hard economic times, there’s usually a strong preference for escapism. When times are good, hard edged realism is in.

        Someone asked an author in 2020 if he was working on another book. (I think it was either Hank Green or Charlie Stross.) His reply was he was waiting to see how the pandemic, election, and other events turned out, because different kinds of books would be in demand depending on the outcomes.

        It’s kind of unnerving to think that the success or failure of art can hinge on when it comes out.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yeah, the thing about art is that it’s always dependent on social modes and perceptions.

        What I’m referring to, though, has a longer arc than current fads of an era. It’s more aligned with, for instance, population and technology curves. My canonical example for a long time was how being gunshot (or otherwise killed) is depicted. Back in the 1960s, it involved the victim clutching their stomach, groaning, and falling down. Over time the depiction became more accurate and even over-exaggerated, sometimes luridly. At the same time, technology improved to make such scenes ever more immersive and real. Such immersive realistic death and violence have become common in all forms of media.

        In parallel, the world has become vastly more complicated and technological such that many give up hope of understanding any of it and, so, become prone to imagination and fantasy. Flat Earthers and Moon Landing Deniers seem harmless, but that same lack of physical reality leads to anti-vaxxers and other far more dangerous beliefs (as we’re seeing in politics now). Back in 2016 the term “post-factual” became part of our vocabulary and perceptions.

        The clear-eyed prescience of Leon Wieseltier’s 2014 ten-word summary of modern culture continues to astonish me: “Too much digital; not enough critical thinking; more physical reality.” Our focus, even in the sciences, is too often lost in philosophical navel-gazing or the kind of lotus dreaming of stoned college kids in their dorm rooms. Too much damned fantasy bullshit as the world slides back towards Medievalism.

  • Superheroes Bore Me | Logos con carne

    […] Attack the Block (2011) — budget of £8 million and a return of only £4.1 million. Another “failure.” (Currently, £8 million is just under $11 million USD.) […]

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