Attack The Block – Blu-ray / DVD review
Vying for top spot in my films of the year, Joe Cornish’s ace alien / ASBO actioner comes to shiny disc on Monday 19th September. Loads of extras, apparently – but I’ll direct you to The Incredible Suit for a teaser of those because, frankly, I didn’t have time to watch them before the PR wanted the disc back.
Attack The Block
(Joe Cornish, GB, 2011)
Homegrown Hollywood-esque action from a Guardian-reading comedian? It should plummet like a stone, but Cornish’s Block-rockin’ beats marry genre thrills to social satire
Sweeping generalisations coming up, so bear with me. If American genre movies are guilty of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, the latter is all a certain type of British cinema offers. Put the two together, and you’ve got a recipe for everything – especially if you have a director whose instinct tends towards making a movie quite literally from the kitchen sink itself.
Joe Cornish, as one half of cult 1990s comedy The Adam and Joe Show, made his name rifling through the bric-a-brac of his childhood and creating pitch-perfect parodies of Hollywood blockbusters, achieving some kind of height with mini-epic Toytanic. It’s taken a while for him to make the logical progression to his own movies but – in the wake of fellow telly-trained comedians Edgar Wright, Christopher Morris and Richard Ayoade – he is well placed to deliver populist Brit-hit with a leftfield edge.
So Attack The Block proves, its blend of Asbo aggro and alien invasion offering a smart balance between wry socio-political parable and an energetic, edge-of-the-seat action thriller. In the wake of a generation of earnest tales of troubled teens, Cornish cuts through a lot of clichés by using hairy, ultra-violet-teethed beasties to dramatise what might have otherwise been heavy-handed messages. At the same time, the set-pieces have real punch because there’s something more at stake for these characters than the norm.
It sounds whimsical, but Cornish doesn’t skimp on brutal reality, kickstarting the film with a nervy, realistic mugging that leaves you wondering if the aggressors can possibly become ‘heroes.’ But within seconds, the rug is pulled with the arrival of an alien – and concepts of territorial pissings get turned on their head. It’s a film that stops to ask why these lads do what they do: boredom, lack of opportunity, mistrust and the pigeon-holing of society into assuming that’s what they do.
Sure, it’s a liberal Guardian reader’s vision of this world, and one that many will hate, but Cornish shows that these kids are at a crossroads. The next step up is full-scale drug dealing for the scarred, violent top man; coming up below are two kids with water pistols practicing their gang names. Only a colossal deus ex machine like the arrival of aliens could possible shift the paradigm, and Cornish knows it: the unspoken thread of the film is that it takes something as outlandish as that to make a change. After the riots that ransacked much of the film’s real-life setting, it’s even more pertinent as a mirror to society; the fact that Cornish finds any cause for optimism, however bizarre, makes it a more interesting prospect that, say, the Broken Britain propaganda of Harry Brown.
The resulting action, in which the victim of the mugging gets inextricably linked with the perpetrators, is an obvious parable of togetherness, but the wit and charm with which Cornish pulls it off is sublime. The Block itself, a chunk of concrete mapped out with a labyrinth of arterial walkways, is a symbol of division, patrolled by lads with nothing else to work for beyond local pride. But the border is failing, crossed by pretentious tourists like slumming rich kid Brewis, and new resident Sam, a middle-class graduate nurse forced to “chav down” by public sector pay grades. Like David Cameron says, we’re all in this together.
And Cornish can handle action and comedy as well as any British breakthrough – it’s in the league of Shaun of the Dead (explicitly linked via Nick Frost) and Lock, Stock…, albeit more primal than either, with its kinetic chase scenes, gory kills and atmospheric horror in a smoke-filled corridor. The most obvious genre nod is Assault on Precinct 13, and Cornish has got John Carpenter’s sense of pace and economy. The film lays out its stall within minutes; 90 minutes later it ends with comparable brevity, without feeling the need for an overly sentimental fade to black. And yet, Cornish doesn’t forget his roots, with a beautifully plotted explanation for the invasion that makes sense of the localisation. No Emmerich-style global carnage here; this is as beautifully parochial as Doctor Who in why aliens are running amok in Sarf Lahndan.