It’s been nearly five years since we first reviewed the award-winning, low-budget sci-fi alien invasion flick Attack the Block. Now that Jodie Whittaker is in the spotlight for her selection as the next Doctor in the BBC’s Doctor Who, and John Boyega will be returning this December for his second stint as Imperial turned Resistance fighter Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, let’s look back to them working together as co-leads in writer/director Joe Cornish’s modern cult classic. Attack the Block should be in every sci-fi fan’s arsenal. When we first reviewed Attack the Block here at borg.com, we compared it to another low-budget British sci-fi/horror mash-up, 1985’s Lifeforce (which co-starred a then less-known Patrick Stewart). After repeat viewings since then, it’s clear Attack the Block is a much better film, full of action, suspense, humor, and good acting by young actors who all feel very real on-screen. In 2011 only fans of the actors from the Cornetto films would have noticed it, because of the slightly larger than cameo performance by Nick Frost, one-half of the Simon Pegg/Frost comic duo (Shaun of the Dead, The Fuzz, Spaced, Paul). Attack the Block was an unknown commodity that didn’t get much reaction at the U.S. box office in 2011 because it was not marketed well and it was not a typical, Hollywood-made sci-fi epic. It was before its time–it’s Stranger Things, UK style. It’s Judgment Night and John Carpenter’s original Attack on Precinct 13 meets E.T., if E.T. didn’t have good intentions and Elliot wasn’t a nice little kid.
It takes a bit to warm up to the main cast of Attack the Block. We follow a teen gang of British kids in masks led by John Boyega’s character Moses as they unabashedly and violently mug a nurse named Sam, played by Jodie Whittaker. From the beginning Whittaker’s Sam really is the only person in the film we are completely sympathetic toward, despite efforts of the writer to get viewers to understand this gang of kids. We almost get to the point of sympathy for the others once Sam decides she may very well be killed by aliens if she does not join up with the gang, and this film takes a swing at answering the question: “Under what situation would a victim, however reluctantly, join up with her attacker?” Violent alien beast invasion, of course! Despite playing the thug, Boyega had charisma even early on and it’s understandable why he has his own band of followers. He gets in over his head dealing with a slightly older drug kingpin who “owns the block” and takes the kid under his wing for a drug sale. His followers are a motley sort. Along with a pair of much younger kids that add some comic relief, and an additional wandering, stoned teenager, they must come together to fight the gang leader and worse—the onslaught of big hairy aliens.
Six years later, Attack the Block easily holds its own. For alien invasion film fans, it offers one of the best aliens of any 21st century production–big or low budget—giant dark, furry beasts built like hybrid gorilla/buffalos, with phosphorescent blue fangs, able to leap and spring and climb buildings. We don’t ever see clear views of these creatures, and that mystery and an overall lack of gore throughout the movie helps form the mystique of these creatures–think the uncertainty of when the shark appears next in Jaws–and it makes them just plain scary as they chase their targets down hallways and up buildings. They aren’t hive-minded aliens from Alien or conniving predators as in Predator, but they don’t need to be.
As a bonus, viewers will learn a new dialect of the English language since the cast speaks with a South London street slang. Surprisingly it is all very easy to comprehend, despite being its own almost incomprehensible language. This is one of the film’s best features, as the slang goes off in so many different directions that it adds a nice comic bit to the film. Subtle elements in the film touch on social class strata in this neighborhood but race itself is not an issue, as the gang has a mix in its membership, black or white, gangly or large, smart or dopey, they all must live together and get along on their block. Boyega’s acting is cool and reserved here, compared to his frenetic high-energy performance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Whittaker is a pleasure to watch. She had just released the dark British TV mini-series Marchlands in a role similar to her performance as a mother who has lost her child in Broadchurch. We get to see Whittaker in many more situations akin to what she’ll be doing in Doctor Who here in Attack the Block, less morose than the women of her best known series roles, and more take-charge and adventuresome.
It all amounts to a great mishmash of tough kids trying to act tougher than they are, a victim trying to make it through a bad situation, a community in defense of its turf, kids learning that actions have consequences, and nicely realized aliens. In 2017 it’s now a reason to look back at this film again, and look forward to the next roles for Whittaker and Boyega. Even better, Attack the Block is a lot of all-out fun and a satisfying sci-fi flick. Attack the Block is available here at Amazon on Blu-ray, and is streaming now on Vudu.