November 15, 2011

Gangs, Aliens and British Slang

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It is difficult to describe the plot of Attack the Block without sounding like someone who belongs in an insane asylum. It is as if Pineapple Express and Inglourious Basterds had a baby that went on to successfully defend itself against King Kong. Attack the Block opens with a mugging, and ends with an arrest. In between, there is some gang violence, a little drug dealing, a lot of drug using and a couple of gory alien attacks. Weirdly enough, the film is a comedy.

To better understand the dynamic between the humor, violence, and social commentary in the film, one should know that Attack the Block comes from Edgar Wright, the writer and director of horror-comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. For those who are unfamiliar with those titles, Shaun of the Dead is a comedy about zombies (pre-Zombieland) and Hot Fuzz is about a quaint English town filled with murderers. Wright, who produced Attack the Block, and Joe Cornish, who wrote it, are experts at striking that perfect balance between the laughable and the bloody.

The story begins on Guy Fawkes Day in London. Fireworks light up the sky as Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a frail looking twenty-something year old nurse, walks alone to her apartment in a less than welcoming neighborhood. A group of hooded teenagers with their faces covered, one wielding a knife, surround her and demand her belongings.

The audience watches the frustrated and defeated Sam report the incident to the police and then tell her story to an elderly neighbor who says something along the lines of, “these kids are ruining the area”.

The film takes a wild turn at this point and follows the teenagers who observe something more than fireworks in the sky. Their leader, Moses (John Boyega), thinks it’s an asteroid. He’s wrong; it’s an invasion. The aliens, described by one of the hoodlums as “Gorilla wolf motherfuckers”, only attack that one block of the neighborhood for some reason (they do eventually figure it out).

The acne-covered ruffians team up with Sam, the nurse they mugged earlier, Brewis, an indie stoner, and Rob (Nick Frost), the cheery drug dealer, to save their friends and defend their block. They arm themselves only with their guts, and whatever odd objects they find along the way, including a guitar and a samurai sword.

The relationship between Sam and Moses helps move the film along. Sam initally berates Moses for his delinquency, but eventually she sort of becomes friends with the kid who threatened her with a knife earlier that day.

However, Attack the Block does not go all Precious on the audience. The movie doesn’t assume that its audience is mentally handicapped, like its big budget counterparts. Through a few well-chosen bits of dialogue and a shot of Spiderman sheets, viewers learn Moses’ story. Boyega’s acting is perfect. He is scary and sinister at the beginning and then pulls off “tough guy with a sensitive side” while avoiding being cheesy.

The funniest lines in the film come from Moses’ friends: a diverse group of gangly teenage boys who all have chosen nicknames for themselves like Mayhem, Bigz and Pest. They are the ones who come up with innovative ways to outwit the aliens and to say lines like, “That’s an alien bruv, believe it.” In addition to the clever writing, wonderful cinematography, realistic special effects (the gorilla wolf aliens are just a little terrifying), one can look forward to the awesome British slang.

Attack the Block is one of those movies in which all the elements simply come together perfectly. The dialogue is funny but doesn’t undermine the more serious aspects of the film, which, in turn, do not take over. There is enough action to keep the audience on its toes, but again not too much to alienate those uninterested in action films.

The soundtrack wonderfully sets the mood for the movie and not is so invasive as to call attention to itself. The almost completely original soundtrack features hip-hop-esque beats and vaguely familiar melodies that you could imagine the main characters listening to. It’s the type of soundtrack that would be perfect to add to a workout playlist, unless you are running at night — in which case it might make you feel like someone is following you.

That sense of sinister unease is definitely present in the movie. Several characters do suffer rather grizzly deaths or injuries, but the kids’ brutal and hilarious honesty, expressed so well in modern-day cockney, keeps it from getting too dark.

The movie’s running time is only eighty-eight minutes long, but it doesn’t feel at all rushed or as though it is missing anything. It jumps right into action and holds the audience’s attention the entire time.

It is rare that an alien movie can be called original. Most follow the same formula and stick strictly within the boundaries of one genre. This movie does not. It is a horror movie, an alien movie, a gang movie, a comedy, and tremendously entertaining.

Original Author: Julia Moser