When aliens invade a South London neighborhood in Attack the Block, they don’t come up against the military or even the police. Earth’s first line of defense? A crowd of wannabe teen gangsters, puffing out their chests and talking tough.
Top dog in this gang is Moses (John Boyega), a slang-slinging scowler whose imposing postures mask the fact that he’s a scared kid who lives alone. In the opening scene, with a handful of admiring followers in tow, Moses attempts to mug a nurse on her way home from work – I say attempts because their would-be crime is interrupted by something odd and ugly that falls from the sky.
Sam, the nurse, is played Jodie Whittaker, who becomes a recurring presence in the film. As the invasion intensifies, she and Moses’ gang repeatedly run into each other, transitioning from angry adversaries to begrudging compatriots and eventually, maybe, toward something like mutual respect. Not so for the others Moses encounters. From frightened neighbors to the police, most people consider Moses and his friends a threat akin to the aliens. In its sharpest moments, Attack the Block poses a tongue in cheek question – “What’s scarier, hostile extra-terrestrials or black youth?” – and then riffs on the sad reality that many people would say the latter.
As for the extra-terrestrials, they’re pretty slick for a film with a relatively small budget. One of Moses’ friends describes them as “gorilla wolves” and that’s a fairly accurate description. With spiky black fur and fluorescent maws, they’re like vaguely animalistic shadows come to life.
Unlike most movies with interstellar creatures, Attack the Block keeps the aliens in the background (aside from the action scenes, of course, which are smartly staged by writer-director Joe Cornish). The movie is more interested in humanizing Moses and his friends in amusing ways, including a montage in which the gang splits up to get weapons and we see that most of them live in nice apartments with caring guardians. Add a propulsive hip-hop soundtrack and a small part for the very funny Nick Frost, and Attack the Block works as both smart social satire and great, gory fun.