A concrete estate in London, a gang of teenagers roaming the streets, and…aliens from outer space? Yes, it’s the surprising sci-fi comedy Attack The Block, in which a group of inner city kids must defend their tower block from the invasion of terrifying creatures. A film with a cult following and a first for director Joe Cornish, composer Steven Price, and leading actor John Boyega, (now shooting off into Hollywood with Star Wars and Pacific Rim: Uprising) Attack The Block is a fast paced comedy horror that turns preconceptions of the ‘hoody horror’ and films about the British working class upside-down, with its choice to focus on those who are usually automatically demonised in the media and movies.
In the early 2000s, inner city estates were often portrayed as rundown and dark, and Attack The Block also does this – it is a horror film about fighting an alien invasion, after all. But a key element that Joe Cornish includes in his directorial debut is a sense of community. For a long time, British genre cinema sunk into ‘hoody horror’, playing on the public’s fear of the violent youth who commit crimes for their own entertainment, their homes in turn becoming visual signifiers for despair and lack of positive human interactions. Films like Harry Brown (2009) and Eden Lake (2008) were praised in conservative newspapers for their ‘realism’ in their portrayal of the people living in working class estates.
Additionally, before Attack The Block burst onto the scene in 2011, estates in films were also often witnessed from the perspective of one person. Walking alone through mazes of monolithic blocks of concrete is of course intimidating no matter what class lives in them. Add a bunch of hoodies to the mix and this creates a horror based on the fear of the ‘out-of-control’ underclass.
However, in Attack The Block, Cornish flips this trope on its head, and although we start on the path of the lone woman (Jodie Whittaker) making her way through the foreboding estate at night, soon we end up navigating the landscape with her and a group of kids who live on the block. Following the gang led by Moses (played by John Boyega in his debut role), we witness the invasion of alien creatures and their efforts to both capture an alien for fame and fortune, but also their efforts to protect their friends and their home. The architecture becomes a playground, a way to evade the enemy, whether it be terrifying aliens or the slightly clueless police who try to stop them from carrying out their plans to protect the block.
John Boyega’s Moses, is a three dimensional character who leads the group of latchkey kids and is well known by many residents that the group visits over the course of the film. Although Joe Cornish doesn’t lean too heavily on the morals, sticking more to the comedy-horror genre and keeping the social commentary relatively light, it’s clear that the gang are stuck between doing the right thing and sinking into the petty crime that many of the peripheral characters are involved in.
Moses and his gang are not shown as inherently bad kids, just kids in an environment they’re making the best of. And when Moses is arrested for the disruption caused by the team fighting off aliens, there is a sense of community in the crowds of residents that gather round to protest Moses being hauled away by the police. From an outsider’s perspective, kids like Moses might look like common thugs, but after spending time with him in the film, he and his gang become real people that are difficult to label so plainly.
A fast moving comedy filled with jump scares and surprisingly creepy aliens, Attack The Block is a film that remains immensely fun to watch and see London through. Boyega couldn’t have picked a better debut; Cornish created a film that busts out of the grimy estate kitchen sink drama that has made up a large proportion of British cinema for a long time. More big screen British sci-fi, please!