With his directorial debut Joe Cornish manages to not only deftly tread the line between humour and horror, but in his alien invasion narrative, Cornish expertly depicts moments of true social realism: Attack the Block is not merely a comedic sci-fi, but a very real attempt to highlight current social issues.
This is not to detract from the enjoyable nature of the film itself, Cornish ensures that these moments of social realism are seamlessly integrated with the narrative, with the film providing a number of well-realised laughs and scares.
Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a young nurse new to the area, walks home after a shift at work; as she finishes talking to her concerned mother on her phone, she finds herself surrounded by a number of threatening youths. As she is forced to hand over her valuable possessions, something resembling a firework falls from the sky, crashing into a car. Sam sees her opportunity to escape, running back to her home, whilst the gang, led by Moses (John Boyega) spy an opportunity to check the now wrecked car for valuables. As Moses begins his search he finds himself attacked by some manner of creature; as the creature runs off, Moses determines to kill it.
The gang, after this successful execution, drag the creature back to the imposing block they live in, unknown to the gang, Sam, lives there too. Whilst showing the creature to their drug dealer (one of the few adults seen), Ron (Nick Frost), more creatures fall from the sky. Moses and his friends, buoyed by their success with the first creature, take it upon themselves to ensure that the rest are killed, unaware of the danger these new creatures present.
The majority of the film takes place in the aforementioned vast block in which the film’s protagonists live, ensuring that a very real sense of claustrophobia is brought to the proceedings. The block becomes a character in itself: it is through the block that we learn most about the protagonists. A scene in which the gang decide to arm themselves shows each gang member entering their home (with the exception of Moses), showing the viewer that these threatening youths have mothers who care about them, responsibilities that they are asked to undertake.
Some may argue that it is hard to empathise with such a group of people, especially when we witness first-hand the attack they commit initially in the film. It is to Cornish’s credit that he very deliberately chooses to show Moses and his friends attacking Sam: Moses and his friends should be hard to empathise with; they are fully developed characters with both foibles and positive aspects to their character. The character arcs are wonderfully developed, made more apparent by the manner in which we are first introduced to these characters – if they were law-abiding and empathetic to begin with, what could be developed within their narrative?
The cast are pitch-perfect, and if the youthful slang may seem overwrought initially, it soon feels entirely natural for its characters. Wonderfully paced, Attack the Block is not only thoroughly enjoyable, but unusually, has much to say on contemporary issues.