Britain’s had a rum old time when it comes to fictional alien invasions. They started early, with steampunk martians getting all up in our Victorian grills before idiotically sneezing themselves to their constituent pieces in War Of The Worlds.
We had a bit of respite in the ’50s as the fashion in the alien travel supplements was to take in the fabulous corn-filled vistas of mid-west America, do some light abducting, maybe probe a farmhand anus or two.
But then that Doctor fellow with the ever-changing, always-irritating face and voice and body and talking popped onto Saturday teatimes and suddenly Britain can’t move for psychopathic pepper grinders and shaggable supermodel siren doctorbots.
But what if the space-nasties happened upon the gritty urban underbelly of South London? When the monsters attack, who would you really want on humanity’s side; a clay-faced bowtied fop, stuffing 100 words into the time taken by 10, flailing his arms and legs around like a Thom Yorke marionette, or a gang of estate yoofs patrolling their block, never further than a text away from being seriously tooled up?
The answer, as explored in “Adam and” Joe Cornish’s enjoyable debut film Attack The Block, is most definitely and utterly the second one. Even if, in the case of nurse Sam, played with admirable swearing bile by Jodie Whittaker, the alien invasion interrupted them giving you a good solid urban mugging.
The potential saviours of the block are a gang of masked reprobates, led by blank-faced anti-hero Moses (John Boyega). It was a risky move by Cornish to introduce his main characters by having them robbing a lone woman, five against one, then spend the rest of the film expressing scant remorse, stealing police vans and pounding every alien intruder in sight. But then Attack The Block isn’t a gritty social commentary; in fact, the attempts to engineer empathy with the gang give the film its few bum notes. They’re little shits you’d tremble to be stuck on a night bus with, but in the end, if it’s them or the loping mess of hairy limbs and florescent teeth falling out of the sky and ripping people’s throats out, you’re going to side with the awful youth.
Where the film really excels is as a satisfying slice of horror adventure. The aliens themselves are subtly realised, menacing without being CGIsores, and Cornish proves his directing chops with some really suspenseful moments – ever thought about using smoke-creating fireworks as a weapon in a gloomy tower block corridor? After watching this, you’ll think twice now, you lunatic.
And there are a couple of laughs as well; the kids, all fantastically portrayed by unknowns, raise a few smiles with their mocking of each other’s gangster stylings and their processing of the alien threat through popular culture (“They’re like Gangs Of War shit!” “It’s raining Gollums!”) Luke Treadaway’s deck-shoed posh-boy stoner gets caught up in the block’s defence, and his attempts to get down with the kids will bring a familiar shameful shudder to anyone who’s ever tried to casually drop an “innit” in a conversation with incredulous 16-year-old.
And Nick Frost turns up briefly and does his amiable Nick Frost schtick as the block’s resident weed supplier. But despite his presence, and Edgar Wright being an executive producer, those expecting the next Shaun Of The Dead will be disappointed – this is not a chock full of belly-laughs film, it’s a running around with a baseball bat being chased by a load of screaming “bear wolf motherfuckers” film. And that’s no bad thing.
So a solidly entertaining first effort from Joe Cornish, even if it’s not what the most ardent Adam and Joe nutjobs will be expecting (though let’s face it, they wouldn’t be happy unless it was a full-length shot-for-shot stuffed-toy remake of The Phantom Menace). Maybe with a little less trying to make us cry rivers of tears for the poor deprived kids, and a little more letting them just be gits who saved the world, it could’ve been almost perfect. But still, an alien incursion with not a bastard bowtie or twattish tweed jacket in sight. Let’s just be thankful for that.