I’m late to the party with this, but how great is Attack The Block? (Answer: exceedingly great, fam.) I felt it worked on several levels, I found it tightly written, and I thought it contained some lovely action moments (especially the corridor scenes amid the firework smoke.) It also featured some memorable comic lines and genuinely poignant moments – for example, when nurse Sam learns her mugger Moses lives virtually alone and is just 15 years old. And not that I’m biased or anything, but a genre film about underprivileged London kids will always get my vote.
The film is about a group of London teenagers whose mugging of a young woman named Sam is interrupted when an alien drops out of the sky. The kids then kill the alien, bringing down a whole load more trouble in the shape of the alien’s bigger, faster brethren. This is the first of several ways in which the aliens and the threat they pose are used as parallels to Moses’ life. He and his friends are at first dismissive of Sam’s mugging, which they scarcely see as a crime, but in the end, just as they misjudged the consequences of killing the alien, they realise Sam is a person not so different from themselves, that mugging her has deep consequences, and they give her back a ring that has sentimental value to her.
There are a lot of ideas in this film about the meaning of alienation and territory, but aside from one or two slightly heavy-handed lines, the script manages not to be preachy or cringeworthy. Moses and his friends are initially presented as masked and therefore faceless, and we are half way through before we learn all their names. By the end of the film, it’s the police who are faceless, emerging from the smoke (as the aliens did moments before), lights and uniforms obscuring their identity. Although you might not necessarily like these teenagers by the end, it’s hard not to find a kind of sympathy for them. They have no money (at one point, a character only has enough credit for one text – one of several moments that is both amusing and poignant.) Although Moses has a Samurai sword, their most effective weapons are fireworks. The turning point for me was when we see the kids running to face the aliens, Pizza Go Go bike and tiny dog in tow. This is when we are given our first reminder that they are just children. Other moments, such as when one boy apologises for his bad driving by saying, “I’m getting lessons for Christmas” add to this.
Moses and his friends mistakenly apply their own code of existence to the aliens. They assume that the creatures turn up en-masse out of a desire to avenge their fallen friend. Likewise, it’s unthinkable that Moses and his friends would simply leave their home (they are deeply offended when Sam says she doesn’t like the area.) Despite their very different perspectives, Sam, gangster Hi-Hatz, and Moses and his friends each individually claim that this is their territory, and their actions are governed by their desire to protect it. And it’s the block that this film is really all about, as highlighted through a lovely first-person shot near the beginning when the viewer is drawn inexorably into its looming bulk. Though Sam seems both to Moses and his friends, and to posh, weed-smoking student Brewis to be alien to the block (Brewis explains he was headed to a party at Fulham and after asking why she’s there, is shocked to learn she lives there) by the end Sam tells police that Moses is her neighbour and stands united with him.
The idea that Moses and his friends appear aggressive out of necessity – from fear and self-preservation – is re-enforced repeatedly. Gangster Hi-Hatz accuses them of bringing both “feds” and aliens to the housing block – another way in which the police and the creatures are set up as parallels. Hi-Hatz at one point suggests Moses might like to graduate to selling cocaine for him, and we are reminded that it is very easy for children from Moses’ background to fall into such a lifestyle by the fact that, in this block, the safest place is the “Weed Room”, where Hi-Hatz grows cannabis. The viewer is drawn into Moses world of alienation and abandonment as the block is sealed off, his female friends flee and the police remain ignorant of the threat within, interested only in catching the muggers. As one of Moses’ friends says towards the end, with regard to his knife carrying (and unnecessarily, I felt, but never mind): “Walking around expecting to get jacked any minute – feels like just another day in the ends.”
I could go on. Anyway, bottom line – watch it!