Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block has had a couple of sneak previews in San Francisco at the AMC and Hole in the Head Film Festival for the SF Indiefest in early June. It was also recently screened at Comic-Con in San Diego. The film is shot exclusively at night in a low income neighborhood in South London patrolled by youth gangs. One of the gangs mugs a young white woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker). She is on the way home talking on her cell phone and looking over her shoulder. Everything about the shot wreaks of easy prey. The teens hidden behind knitted hats, hoodies and kerchiefs over their faces take her phone and her ring and run off.
Suddenly a meteor falls from the sky and hits a car. In it is a ferocious alien creature. Moses (John Boyega), the leader of the pack, shoots the creature dead in self defense. His gang is composed of three other teens, one white and two black. After the shooting, black furry creatures with luminous green teeth attack and kill two policemen but mostly seem to have it in for Moses and company. Moses knows that the police are going to pin the murders on them. So they are not only running from the creatures but the cops. One of the fur balls sinks its teeth into young Biggz (Simon Howard). As daunting as the creatures seem, however, two pipsqueak boys manage to kill one of them using a huge space gun that squirts flammable liquid onto the creature, which they later ignite with fireworks.
The gang makes for their high-rise, Wyndam Towers, and run into the girl they mugged. They hadn’t realizes she lived in the hood and claim that they never would have attacked her otherwise. As it turns out, she is a nurse who is able to dress Biggz’ wound. Alarmed by the creatures, she eventually decides to hang with the gang for protection and to take action.
Attack the Block is a youth film about camaraderie. Side characters include a marijuana dealer named Ron (Nick Frost) who also preys on the youth in the hood with his enterprise – and one of his customers, the young teen Brewis (Luke Treadaway). Despite living in a cloud, Brewis turns out to be quite clever, and comes up with a theory about the creatures. Other memorable characters include a group of young teenage girls led by Dimples (Page Mead). They are attuned to the weaknesses of the gang and are smarter, even if they are disgusted with them.
Joe Cornish has made is a simple film about solidarity in the hood. A threat that menaces basic survival is able to point youth in another direction. The ordeal provides a pathway that allows them to transcend a lifestyle that has wrought personal havoc. Moses takes the call and rises to the opportunity to turn his life around and inspire his hood, with the help of the woman he mugged.
Fortunately there are other venues for reviews of new films in San Francisco. If Mick LaSalle at the San Francisco Chronicle was taken to heart, no one would bother going to see Attack the Block. The “empty chair” symbol in his review is telling. He claims he couldn’t understand the language of the film, though it is not only the South London English that was a hurdle for him, but the whole point of the saga. LaSalle couldn’t warm up to the aliens but left out the hood that the film is about. The furry creatures are machevelian messengers sent to earth to engage with them.
Now at AMC’s Loews Metreon 16