Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker teams up with Finn from Star Wars and Santa Claus to fight off alien invaders. Need we say more?
Alright, alright, that’s not quite what happens in Attack the Block. Although, it’s not entirely untrue, either. This 2011 British flick does indeed star Jodie Whittaker and John Boyega, before they went on to become bona fide sci-fi icons. It’s really quite interesting to see how far they’ve come. Certainly, for anyone wanting to verse themselves in Whittaker’s filmography before her Doctor Who debut later this year, Attack the Block is essential viewing. Luckily, it also manages to stand up as a pretty decent film all on its own.
Attack the Block comes to us via the pen and direction of Joe Cornish. However, the name that’s likely to grab you is its executive producer, Edgar Wright. Best known for the Cornetto trilogy, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and this year’s (amazing) Baby Driver, Wright is known for quirky, stylish cinema. While his influence here is less hands-on, it’s easy to see how the film slots into his high profile repertoire. And we don’t just say that because of Nick Frost’s appearance either (no Simon Pegg though, which is a shame). Rather, we say that because Attack the Block is a very unique, very original, and very very English slice of sci-fi. But perhaps not quite in the way you’re expecting…
Alien vs Predator
The story begins in a South London estate on Bonfire Night. Jodie Whittaker, playing Sam, gets top billing in the credits and she’s the very first character we see on screen. However, it’s not long until she finds herself being mugged by a gang of hooded youths led by Moses (Boyega). Sam manages to escape though when something suddenly falls from the sky – a strange, alien creature. Without mercy, Moses chases it down and kills it. He revels in his bloodlust, but little does he know that the rest of the aliens are coming – and now they want revenge. Forced to take refuge in a nearby tower block, the predator becomes the prey as Moses’ gang fights to stay alive. But just how far and how long can they run?
If there’s one word to describe Attack the Block, it’s “urban”. Very, very urban. The central characters (Sam aside) are all yobbos, druggies, or wannabe gangsters. Basically, they’re all pretty unlikable, and that’s a big risk for a film to take. Boyega’s Moses, really, is the prime example of this. He does undergo some character development, and there is an arc of redemption for him by the end. But the very first things we see him do are mug an innocent woman and murder an innocent creature. It’s not easy to want to root for him. There may even be times you think he deserves to get ripped apart by the alien beasties. Thankfully, the resolution isn’t a completely ‘happy’ one – while the protagonists bow out as heroes, they still get their comeuppance.
Blud and Guts
What may put some viewers off, especially if you’re not down with the gang members’ slang is… well, the gang members’ slang. The script is absolutely laden with language that’s not only foul, but often a little incomprehensible. It’s an integral if potentially off-putting part of the experience that, for some, may ultimately work to its detriment. It’s authentic, but it does reinforce a lot of stereotypes surrounding these sorts of characters. We just hope you’re willing to listen to the likes of “brap”, “merk” and “blud” for a solid 90 minutes. U get me?
Anyway, back to the film itself. It’s billed as sci-fi, action, comedy, and horror – and, to its credit, it could definitively fit into all of those genres. A little like Doctor Who, actually. In fact, once the action moves into the tower block, it’s very much like a classic base-under-siege story. Dark shadowy forces stalking long and claustrophobic corridors? Check! It’s almost as if this was intended as a test-run for Whittaker’s time on the TARDIS. Speaking of which, her character Sam doesn’t throw herself into things as heroically as The Doctor might. She’s more of a reluctant participant, only joining the fight out of fear and necessity. But, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Whittaker is on fine form throughout. One particular scene near the end really gives her a chance to shine, tasking her with sneaking past a whole load of bloodthirsty aliens…
Going the Extra-Terrestrial Mile
Ah yes, how could we not talk about those aliens? We actually find out very little about the extra-terrestrial invaders. We don’t know their names, we don’t know their species. We don’t even know where they’re from. What we do know is, they have one heck of an impressive design. Described as “big gorilla wolf” creatures, their pitch black fur and glow-in-the-dark teeth is hugely effective. It’s a really simple aesthetic that makes them unknowable, undetectable, and utterly terrifying all at the same time. They’re easily one of the highlights of the experience and they get some brilliantly scary moments. What’s also refreshing is they’re not here to take over the world (at least, not yet). For reasons that eventually become clear, they just want to avenge their comrade.
The presentation of the film extends beyond the superb CG aliens – which, on reflection, are about as far as the CG goes. While the characters may not always strike home, the atmosphere is truly spot on. Cornish has done a great job in the director’s chair, giving us a wide array of high octane, suspense-filled set-pieces. Despite the film’s small scale, the stakes constantly feel very high. Not everyone gets out alive, and it feels like anyone could fall at any moment. The action ramps up as to match the ever-increasing heights of the tower block, before finally going out in a (literal) blaze of glory. You can say what you want about Attack the Block elsewhere, but it’s impossible to deny that it goes out with a bang.
Attack the Block may be imperfect, but it’s a stylish and engaging thrill ride from start to finish. The look and feel is polished and vivid. The acting is strong and the menace is palpable. Its script also plays fast and loose with sci-fi expectations: who really are the monsters here? Really, if you can just look past the characters’ flaws and tune into the lingo, this is a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half. Plus, Jodie Whittaker’s pretty great in it, innit. The incoming Thirteenth Doctor continues to impress, and her turn in this film deserves your respect. Swear down.