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Attack The Block (2011,UK)

22/01/2012

Director: Joe Cornish          Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost

Hype can be a killer. Few things are as problematic for me when I sit down to enjoy a movie than over inflated expectations thanks to critical zealotry and exaggerated word of mouth. In my experience, even the most diabolical attempt at filmmaking can be enjoyed if your expectations going in are properly calibrated. Usually if the hype surrounding a film is too overwhelming I like to give it a wide berth until such time as the fuss has died down and I can watch it from as objective a view point as possible (I did this with Fincher’s The Social Network with pleasing results). This should perhaps be the approach I took with Attack The Block.

The Block of the title is a rough London estate, populated by knife wielding hoodies who we meet at the beginning of the film mugging an innocent young woman, Sam (Whittaker), on her way home from work. When their night of criminality is interrupted by the explosive arrival of a visitor from outer space (which they promptly chase down and kill) the groups de facto leader Moses (Boyega) is convinced this could prove to be their big pay day but the gang are unprepared for the onsalught that follows when the creature’s extra terrestrial brethren arrive and start munching their way through the local population.

It’s kind of a Critters meets Kidulthood affair that regrettably doesn’t live up to the waves of hype surrounding it. There is a lot to say in its favour. It’s a well paced action/sci fi romp with some great chase scenes. The creature design on the aliens is ace and there are some great, gory moments when they get their glow in the dark fangs into a hapless victim. The performances are robust if unspectacular and the younger members of the cast acquit themselves well alongside their more experienced colleagues. All these things together would, under different circumstances, make for an entertaining hour and half’s viewing.

My biggest problem with the film though, and an obstacle that it couldn’t really overcome, is that it brought out my inner Daily Mail reader in the first five minutes and left me unable to root for the film’s unlikely heroes. Call me crazy, but I have trouble being sympathetic towards gangs of thugs who are happy to rob a young woman at knifepoint, regardless of their age or social circumstances. Yes, the film does touch on the various social factors that have brought the kids to this point (criminal gangs offering a familial group missing from their lives, persecution – or behaviour perceived as such – by the authorities, etc, etc, etc) but nevertheless expects you to get behind a gang of teenagers who not only think it’s their right to take other people’s property but think it’s funny to do so under threats of violence. The unfortunate side effect of this is that I spent the entire film rooting for the aliens and hoping they managed to catch up with the “heroes” so they could eviscerate them limb from limb.

As with all those tedious twenty first century horror movies where the protagonists are impossible to care about idiots, a film like this loses any sense of threat and menace the second you realise you’d rather see the main characters disposed of than survive their ordeal. Now I’m sure not everybody feels the same way about them as I do. If you feel less reactionary towards young wannabe gangsters (the type of idiotic child that refers to police as “feds” because they saw it in an American TV show once) then you may well enjoy it a lot more than I did.

The thing is though, that isn’t the film’s only problem. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty average. I suspect that most of the hype surrounding it has been the result of the usual hyperbolic reaction to any British made film that looks even remotely watchable, coupled with the novelty value of the unusal choice of heroes and setting. This is a shame, because had I approached the film without the burden of these expectations I feel certain I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

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