ATTACK THE BLOCK Is Still An Irreverent Sci-Fi Movie With A Strong Moral Centre

When Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block arrived in cinemas back in 2011, it quickly became a cult favourite but struggled to make big numbers at the box office. Had it been released today in the wake of greater calls for diversity, it’s easy to imagine the film getting much more mainstream fanfare. After all, Attack The Block forces the audience to confront important issues, using comedy, satire, and sci-fi.

The film follows the events of one night, in which alien invaders attack a South London council estate. These monsters make for a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with Moses (John Boyega) and his teenage gang, who we meet in the opening scene, as they mug a young nurse (Jodie Whitaker) on the dimly-lit streets close to their tower block. From here, Cornish pulls these characters into an otherworldly nightmare where the gang emerges as unlikely heroes. Through it all, the movie maintains a sense of comic charm with a distinctly British flavour.

Defending the Block

With his low budget filmmaking, Cornish explores the lives of these teens at a break-neck pace. The gang are not masterclass criminals with a plan to take over the streets, but misguided teenagers trying to prove their machismo to one another. Attack The Block, however, shows glimpses of their vulnerability. We see the boys rush home to gather weapons to fight against the aliens, and there’s a moment when the wise-cracking Pest (Alex Esmail) drops the tough guy act and says: “Right now, I feel like going home, locking the door and playing FIFA.”

ATTACK THE BLOCK Is Still An Irreverent Sci-Fi Movie With A Strong Moral Centre
source: Optimum Releasing

The montages of their home lives serve as a contrast to when they’re first introduced as muggers, and it’s surprisingly cathartic to see the gang rise to the occasion to fight back against the aliens. However, the boys, initially enthused by the idea of going to war with alien monsters, realise the gravity of their situation and take refuge in their tower block. As the invaders terrorise the group, the boys’ bravery never wavers, and we start to view them in a different light.

Attack The Block walks a fine line between redemption and condemnation. While Cornish weaves in comedy throughout, the boys are never excused for their past violence, with Moses constantly being reminded that his actions were reckless and indefensible: “Why is it always trouble with you? Why is it always someone getting robbed or beaten up?” says Tia (Danielle Vitalis), a friend of the gang. Gradually, Moses realises that the monsters are attacking their community because he killed a smaller alien, which in turn, pushes the key idea of the movie that “actions have consequences”.

ATTACK THE BLOCK Is Still An Irreverent Sci-Fi Movie With A Strong Moral Centre
source: Optimum Releasing

The quiet power of Attack The Block lies in how the boys are mostly at fault for all the trouble that comes their way, yet they refuse to shirk responsibility. Cornish clearly wanted to tell a story that takes cues from the real-world, as questions around the representation of minority groups are ever-present. It’s that keen perspective of characters with diverse backgrounds that makes Attack The Block different from your average alien invasion movie. Science fiction has long been a genre that champions diversity, and Attack The Block‘s cast of young actors is another reason why the film remains fresh and honest. Today, as the likes of John Boyega has moved onto greater things, that scene where Moses runs down the hallway, swinging a sword with hordes of aliens chasing after him, is all the more powerful.

Socially Aware

The fusion of sci-fi and social realism is why the film resonates, and because Cornish was inspired to make Attack The Block after being mugged in South London. Instead of condemning these young criminals outright, his reaction was to try and understand their behaviour. Much of the movie is about perception and how we’re quick to judge each other, and Attack The Block feels empathetic of people who are stuck in a cycle of violence, with the film suggesting that these boys have been failed by the system.

Cornish’s commentaries can be seen in Sam’s eventual change of heart: amid the chaos and alien invading, she realises that the gang are just kids who took the wrong path and are not to be feared. Initially, Sam sees the boys as nothing more than troublemakers, but the aliens’ attack makes her recognise their humanity. It’s a remarkable turnaround, which shows the importance of having well-defined characters. Moses, for instance, isn’t portrayed as a good guy who’s done bad things, but rather a very flawed character who shows he’s able to change when posed with a bigger threat. There’s always a moral compass at play and when the boys are holed up in Sam’s flat, Jerome (Leeon Jones) drives home the film’s morality in the most upfront way possible: “There’s worse things out there to be scared of than us tonight, trust!” It’s in these instances that Attack The Block tackles race and class directly, sharing a message about accepting differences in others.

It’s a movie less focused on the actual invasion and places more interest in how these characters grow after being put through the wringer. In the end, Moses becomes the saviour of his community. Even though he’s arrested after destroying the aliens, he manages to transcend the stereotypes that were held against him at the start of the film. As the crowd chants his name, Sam tells the police that Moses and his gang protected her, breaking down all those class barriers.

Attack The Block ultimately feels like a mediation on what it means to be a hero all the while exploring youth and racial dynamics. It’s a cautionary tale with the central conceit of hoodies versus aliens being a testament to the power of science fiction. Attack The Block remains a rare gem that challenges the audience just as much as it entertains. Cornish’s film stands out as an excellent piece of British cinema that draws on classic sci-fi with sharp characters that defy the odds and save the world.


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