Midwest BSFA member Tiffany Luckey (of Another TV Blog) is back with the third installment of our “Rewatch” series, giving us her take on the 2011 film Attack the Block.
As a certified geek and pop-culture fanatic, you already know that the Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters Friday. And, as a certified geek and pop-culture fanatic, you probably also know that the race of one of the film’s main stars, British actor John Boyega, has been causing a great disturbance in the Force for months now. (Remember how racists over on Twitter lost every ounce of their minds trolling about whether a stormtrooper could actually be black? LOLOLOL.) But never mind that. In order to get a real feel for Boyega’s sci-fi chops, you have to go back to Attack the Block.
Released in 2011 and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block is an English sci-fi/comedy/thriller cult classic about a group of South London teens who defend their “block,” and presumably Earth, from creepy extraterrestrials. As cliché as the plot sounds, the film is wildly entertaining and hilarious—and evokes some significant commentary about class, law enforcement and inner-city life that rings true in London, across the pond over here in the United States and a number of other places around the world.
The film opens with Samantha (Jodie Whittaker), a nurse who’s new to the block, getting mugged by a teenage gang led by Moses (Boyega). The mugging turns unsuccessful as something meteor-like hits a nearby car, diverting the gang’s attention and allowing Samantha to get away. Moses investigates the car, finding that what fell from the sky is some type of hairless creature. The creature runs away, but the boys run after it and eventually kills it.
Moses and his gang then take the corpse to neighborhood weed-man Ron (Nick Frost) for advice on what do to with it. Ron asks his “boss” Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) if Moses can leave the corpse in their resident weed room (because that’s a thing) for the time being. But soon, more aliens descend on Earth and this time, they’re furry, gorilla-like beasts with rows and rows of green luminescent fangs—much more frightening than those hairless beings.
For the rest of the film, Moses and the others fight off beast after beast in both comical and terrifying ways, eventually crossing paths with Samantha, who is still pissed about the mugging (and rightfully so) but ends up helping the boys after she sees what’s really going on. Why did the aliens show up? And why does no one else outside of the block realize there’s something wrong?
Part of that last question can be answered by the fact that the story takes place on Guy Fawkes Night, but by setting an alien movie in a council estate (aka “the projects” in American lingo), the creators were clearly trying to say something about the economic/racial isolation of such a location. Geography isn’t always destiny but in the case of housing projects like the fictional Clayton, the rules of the regular world don’t always apply. If the police can’t do – or aren’t willing to do – anything to make the lives of those on the block better through more conciliatory interaction, what exactly are they going to do against aliens? There’s a piece of dialogue in the movie that illustrates this fairly well:
Samantha: We should call the police.
Pest: You’d be better off calling the Ghostbusters, love.
Moses has his own theory as to why the aliens are on the block: They’ve been put there by the government to facilitate the eradication of black people since black people aren’t killing themselves off fast enough. Oh snap! Sound familiar? Pest’s witty comeback and Moses’s theorizing are merely glimpses into how untrustworthy police are to minority and poverty-stricken communities—and how police sometimes jump to conclusions based on the racial and economic makeup of those communities.
Warning: Spoiler alert! By the end of the film, Moses saves the day by killing most (all?) of the aliens on the block and blowing up the building that houses his apartment in the process. But, of course, Moses—as well as Pest (Alex Esmail), Ron and Ron’s zoinked-out customer Brewis (Luke Treadaway)—is arrested for the deaths of several people on the block, including two police officers (killed by the gorilla aliens), who earlier arrested Moses for mugging Samantha. However, Samantha comes to Moses’ defense, but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.
It’s clear that Boyega is the breakout star in this film, reminiscent of a younger Idris Elba or Denzel Washington (yes, I said it) and whose Moses character is the archetypical anti-hero that we all root for. With this and The Force Awakens, here’s hoping we get to see more of Boyega in film in the coming years. Attack the Block is straightforward sci-fi that doesn’t disappoint. Even if you ignore the social commentary and critique of race and class relations (which you shouldn’t, because—hello!—it’s all in your face), at least you can appreciate it for what it is: a damn good movie.