Attack the Block: Aliens and Strife and Pheromones, oh My!

Some Spoilers Ahead

A couple of days ago my roommate asked if I wanted to see Attack the Block.

Attack the what? At first I thought it may be some new dance movie–a group of inner city youth comes together to tap dance their way into America’s hearts and save a convent. Or something. I went online to look for a description and got as far as “alien invasion” before I emailed back to say “I concur with your cinematic choice wholeheartedly and will attend with my full presence,” or some variant thereof.

Anyway, Attack the Block is to alien movies as Shaun of the Dead is to Zombie movies–which makes sense since they’re from the same producers. Unfortunately it’s not quite as good as Shaun of the Dead–it’s more serious in its approach to character and conflict and class struggles and so when we get to the fairly simple end I felt a little cheated. Not a lot cheated–more like I was expecting Coke and got Diet Pepsi.

The film opens with a group of teenage Londoners mugging a young woman on her way home. I knew from the one trailer I saw that the group of teenagers would be the heroes of the film so I thought it strange that a movie would start by destroying any sympathy I might develop for them. The girl gets away when a meteorite crashes into a car behind them. Girl runs off, hooligans investigate and end up killing a strange creature (spoiler: it’s an alien).

This (quite surprisingly I’m sure) turns out to be a mistake. A whole slew of other aliens show up (bigger aliens with more teeth which glow in the dark) and start chasing the boys. There’s also some drug running, some jokes about Pokemon, lots of cussing, the proverbial gun on the kitchen table in the form of a television reference to moth Pheromones, and the mugged girl ends up running with the boys who’d held her up earlier. In quite predictable fashion they all end up becoming friends and will likely team up in the sequel to open a dress shop for disadvantaged tap dancing nuns. But it actually works. She remains pissed at them through most of the film, but since they have weapons and there are huge gorilla bear monsters out in the streets and she’s NOT a complete idiot, she takes the path of most likely survival.

I can’t tell you much more of the plot without giving away the whole thing–although it’s not as if it’s a huge mystery. This is not a movie with twists and turns and Shymalamadingdongish reveals (the aliens are really zombies who are dead and haunting your pool… also they rig political elections sometimes while wearing anachronistic clothing). Early on I made mental comparisons to District 9–particularly in the sense that the main characters began as unsympathetic–but by the end I realized that District 9’s title as Best Surprisingly Good Alien Film is still safe (even if it is entirely unwatchable if you ever want to not vomit continuously). District 9 worked because it was complicated by serious conflicts of interest between two clear protagonists. This film has multiple protagonists, but none of them are really in conflict. Furthermore, it quickly becomes apparent that the only people in danger are the people that caused the mess to begin with so there aren’t world altering stakes at… stake. Several people die but only to A) show Gorilla Bear Monster is serious Gorilla Bear Monster B) reduce the number of people the audience has to keep track of C) give a burst of gory levity to an otherwise tense situation.

Without Dramatic Global Consequences or Serious Character Attachments there wasn’t a whole lot of weight to add to the eventual resolution. The best we get is a sense of mutual understanding between Moses and the Girl He Mugged (I’m sure she had a name, but hers wasn’t being chanted by the crowd at the end). It was nice but it’s not going to keep me up at night.

So if the film isn’t adroit social commentary on the state of geopolitical politics or something of that nature–what is it? Sometimes it felt a little like a fluffy horror film with much gnashing of teeth and explosions and BOO. And sometimes it felt like a comedy–though I was the only one in the audience who laughed… at all (what, being eaten alive isn’t funny?). Oh–and there was also the completely understated conflict between the (mostly black) teenagers and the police. Every time one of the group went to his or her bedroom to get baseball bats and rockets and Katanas (the weapon of choice for space alien hunting… there have been studies) I thought of the recent unpleasantness. Since the movie did so little to establish the strife, I don’t really know if I would have found the complete lack of calling for the authorities believable had I not spent more than 45 seconds this summer reading Google+ linked posts filling between the lines of BBC coverage. There were some other subtle motivations for not calling as well such as extreme protective instinct for their home and neighbor. The boys tell Mugged Girl that if they’d known she lived in their building they never would have bothered her which makes her… instantly like and forgive them? Of course not. Why? Because this movie was written by someone who doesn’t work as a movie producer in LA who finds it necessary to excise all brain cells from female characters. She yells at them. The tiny nurse facing her earlier attackers cusses them out and threatens them with a guitar and when she realizes that they have weapons and the Gorilla Bear Monsters are all bitey-bitey, she tells THEM they’re taking her with them and they tell her to grab a weapon and she gets a KNIFE. A huge freaking knife which she later USES. I think I love her.

Anyway, overall I thought it was a good movie. Great pacing, dialogue and character interactions, plus some scenes which I found hilarious even if no one else did (to be fair, there were only 6 of us in the theatre). Will I buy it on DVD? Probably not. But it was totally worth the $5 admission price and I won’t turn it off if it ever comes on cable.


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