Jerome : “This is too much madness to explain in one text!”
Talk about not judging a book by its cover. When the movie starts you’re in modern day south London in a council state (housing projects) on “Guy Fawkes” night, a shower of fireworks lighting up the sky. A young white nurse is walking the street on her own and is mugged by a group of five black and mixed-race teenage hoodlums. All of a sudden a meteorite slams onto a car next to them, and an alien creature scratches the face of Moses, the leader of the gang. “I’m chasing that down. I’m killing it,” he shouts. They get on their bikes in pursuit of the creature, which has come from outer space, and “Attack the Block” (2011) this crazy good, highly entertaining mixture of comedy, sci-fi and social commentary takes off. Before we know it, the assailed young lady, Samantha, who speaks proper English and the boys in this hood who use London patois, will put their differences aside and join forces to save humanity.
As they take off on their wheels, first time director Joe Cornish pays homage to “E.T.” with Spielbergian cinematography but jolts you out of your nostalgic comfort zone as Moses annihilates the furry ball that just landed on his turf. By the way, John Boyega, who went on to Star Wars fame, plays Moses in his film debut and he’s quite magnetic. With the stinky remains of the alien in tow, he heads to marijuana dealer Hi-Hatz in order to impress and “be made.” While entering the Wyndham Tower, an apartment complex (shot as if it were “Close Encounters,” an immense foreign spaceship of concrete in the ‘ends’ of London), more creatures start showering over the city. These aliens are in for the surprise of their lives for as Moses puts it, “They’ve landed in the wrong place.”
Cornish not only has extraordinary cinematic flair, he’s doing something extremely clever here. Around 2010 the Conservative party in England had proliferated the idea of a “Broken Britain” to describe an alleged widespread state of social decay in the United Kingdom. The sci-fi scenario created by the director recalls Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” (2009) and its handling of xenophobia and social segregation. Given the recent discussion of racism in England after the Meghan Markle interview, the film has an added resonance. In one moment of poignancy, young Moses declares, “Government probably bred those things to kill black boys. First they sent in drugs, then they sent guns and now they’re sending monsters in to kill us. They don’t care, man. We ain’t killing each other fast enough. So they decided to speed up the process.”
Once the creatures start invading their building, the young men seek refuge in Samantha’s apartment. Up until this moment the two parties didn’t know they lived in the same place. Hilariously she thinks they’re breaking into it and want to rob her again. She defends herself with a guitar. “There are worse things out there to be scared of than us tonight,” Jerome tells her. In order to fight this new outside threat, they need to redefine their social and class order. There’s a reevaluation of the way both groups see one another.
The extra-terrestrial aggressors are wolf-like creatures that have blue glow-in-the-dark fangs and no eyes. It turns out that they follow the scent secreted by the original creature killed by Moses, triggering a communal angry response towards the inhabitants of earth. Nifty analogy when you think about it, not actually being able to see your enemy but just jolting at it instinctually and irrationally.
But while all of this heady stuff is there subliminally for you to analyze, the film is packed with impressive action, especially given the budgetary constrictions, and there’s also plenty of laugh out loud moments. One of the funniest gags involves them hiding in the safest room in the building, which happens to be the “Weed Room”–a fortress-like compartment at the top where the local gangsters grow cannabis. “What’s Ron’s weed room?” asks Samantha as she’s told they’re seeking shelter there. Brewis tells her, “It’s a big room! Full of weed. And it’s Ron’s.”
The last half of the movie has most of the characters fighting for their lives while trapped in the corridors of the 19th floor, and the staging pays tribute to John Carpenter’s 1976 action thriller “Assault on Precinct 13,” which in similar ways used action to bring together two seemingly opposing enemies to fight for a unifying cause.
Using the Guy Hawkes night celebration is not just a casual detail, nor is the fact that Moses propels out of the balcony in the climax hanging on to a Union Jack.
Sam: “You think I’m gonna help you? After you attacked me, and robbed me, and then set those dogs on the police?”
Dennis: “Yes to the first two, no to the last one.”
Available to stream on Amazon Prime, EPIX and fuboTV and to rent on Amazon Prime, Microsoft, Google Play, YouTube, iTunes, Apple TV+, FandangoNOW and Vudu.
Written and Directed by Joe Cornish
Starring John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Jumayn Hunter, Nick Frost
Writer/Director Joe Cornish on Bringing “Attack the Block” to the Screen
“I have wanted to make films since I was like 13, I went to film school when I was 18 and I’m 42 now so it has taken me 20 years to do this – 20 years working TV and comedy and stuff. Like you, I’ve got loads of ideas in my head and always I walk around with loads of ideas and movie ideas have to be clusters of ideas, like a premise and development and characters, so it’s just a question of letting them just sit in your head. There’s a writer I know in the UK called Graham Linehan, who writes ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The IT Crowd,’ who said a brilliant thing to me – and this kind of sounds weird, but he said, “Part of writing is not writing or knowing when to start writing, because there’s nothing worse than sitting down and being blank.” So his thing was to wait until the last minute to write – until there’s so much S*&^ in your head that you cannot stop it coming out. So I just waited. I waited for a good idea and a story I felt passionately about and this mugging incident – because when you live in Brixton in South London, you spend a lot of your life being asked when are you going to move and I tell them I’m not going to fucking move, I love it, I grew up there. So when this thing happened to me that lived up to the stereotype, it kind of upset me so deeply I couldn’t not make a story out of it. Then when I thought of the idea of a meteor falling out of the sky that was the first idea that happened. Then the switch of not following the victim, but following the gang, I thought that’s going to freak some people out.” (screenrant.com)
Writer/Director Joe Cornish on the Musical Inspirations of “Attack the Block”
“My intention always was to create a combination of a John Williams score and a John Carpenter score. So the pitch was those two getting together – there is a British musician called Roots Manuva that I really like – so my original pitch was John Williams and John Carpenter go over to Roots Manuva’s house and get really stoned and write the score. That was before we really had anybody on board. Then we found this guy called Steve Price, who was music producer for Edgar [Wright] on ‘Scott Pilgrim’ and one of his skills is to be able to wrangle pop musicians to a movie schedule and get them to deliver and get their cues for the scenes. Then we got Basement Jaxx involved, who are a Brixton-based outfit, which is where the movie is set. They are very good at all these different feels and there is a sort of happiness to everything they do. We were just lucky. Music is incredibly important. It can affect the tone of a film very late in the day. You hear about directors who throw scores out. You hear about directors who won’t have a composer on there, like Quentin [Tarantino] does everything from his record collection. So we were just lucky they nailed it. The first demo that Basement Jaxx came in with was that riff, bum-bum click bum-bum-bum click. They hadn’t even seen that much of the film – I had shown them about 25 minutes of the film. Then we had a long discussion and they brought back eight demos and one of them was that and I remember listening to it at home and I was worried because it was late in the day and I was thinking ‘Are we ever going to find anyone who can get what’s in my brain?’” (screenrant.com)
Writer/Director Joe Cornish on the Inspiration Behind the Creatures of “Attack the Block”
“It came from lots of different places. It came from looking at my cat. I have a black cat. I’ve grown up with a black cat, and I was fascinated by how when you backlight a black-furred animal it looks two-dimensional. It looks like a shadow. It occurred to me that film is the process of capturing a three-dimensional space and flattening it. So I thought, almost mathematically, What if you had a creature that was so black that its fur absorbed light? And it visually looked like my cat. Wouldn’t that sit in a film image in a cool way? And it reminded of Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ where he used rotoscope. It reminded me of ‘Pete’s Dragon.’ It reminded me of ‘Mary Poppins.’ It reminded me of contemporary performance capture techniques where you’re almost painting over live action. You know the techniques they used in Snow White, or the first SNES game to use performance capture called Another World. And I just thought … cool that might work. We tested it six months before we shot, and it kind of worked. By that time, I had a sense of the overall look of the film. It was all at night, and I was going to be dealing with high contrast bright colors and deep, deep shadows. And I thought, OK, if the body is a deep shadow, there should be a secondary point to draw your attention. I was looking at a back issue of Cinefex, and I was reading about how Spielberg and (Carlo) Rambaldi put a light in E.T.’s chest and finger, and how much Spielberg uses light to express emotion, in Close Encounters and E.T. And that gave me the idea to make the teeth glow. That was that. We approached the design of the movie and the cinematography and the post production all with that in mind, with making the creature work. We did a special grade for the DVD and Blu-ray to make sure the black tones work. I used to obsessively watch DVDs and look at the black tones.” (hollywoodsoapbox.com)
About Director of Photography Thomas Townend
Townend trained at the National Film And Television School, whose other alumni include Roger Deakins, Lynne Ramsay, Terence Davies, David Yates and Joachim Trier, and has been working mostly in the commercials sector for years, assembling an impressive CV in the meantime. Once the 2000s got underway, he started to get major credits in the feature world, with 2nd unit DoP credits on “28 Days Later,” “Harry Brown” and “Pride & Prejudice,” as well as working on all three of Lynne Ramsay’s films, serving as second unit DoP on “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (he also lensed a Doves music video for the director, a classmate at the NFTS). While he was becoming more and more successful as a DoP in the promos world, it was likely due to the Ramsay collection that saw Paddy Considine pick him to serve as cinematographer as his short film “Dog Altogether” (which the actor/director went on to expand as feature “Tyrannosaur“). Work on Jennifer Saunders’ TV comedy “The Life And Times Of Vivienne Vyle” followed, before Samantha Morton‘s harrowing made-for-TV directorial debut “The Unloved,” which got a theatrical release, and much acclaim, in the U.S. Even so, the kitchen sink drama of that film meant he wasn’t an obvious choice for the directorial debut of Joe Cornish, and Cornish even admits that his producers held some reservations: “…they…cautioned me that using a comparatively less experienced (in terms of features) DoP would be a harder sell to the investors. In truth, as soon as everyone met Tom and saw his work, they were immediately as convinced as I was that he was the man for the job.” And indeed, it turned out to be a stroke of genius; Townend could bring the grit, but he also brought a sense of color (and some astonishing lighting) that helped the film straddle the real and the fantastical…one of his most recent credits was on an ad for Hiscox Insurance directed by “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” helmer Tomas Alfredson, demonstrating how he’s come to the attention of big-name directors now, something only helped by him winning the Best Cinematography prize at the MTV Music Video Awards for his work on Adele‘s omnipresent, yet still awesome “Rolling In The Deep” clip… (indiewire.com) Townend’s most recent works include “Attack the Block” (2011), “Turks & Caicos” (2014), “Salting the Battlefield” (2014), “Hidden” (2015) and the documentary short “Brigitte” in 2019.
About Writer and Director Joe Cornish
Joe Cornish is the writer and director of films such as “Attack the Block” and “The Kid Who Would be King.” He began his career working with his comedy partner Adam Buxton on the brilliant “The Adam and Joe Show” on Channel 4, before co-writing first “Ant-Man” and then “The Adventures of Tintin” with Edgar Wright. Recently, he, Edgar, Nira Park and Rachael Prior have formed Complete Fiction Production to continue to bring their ideas to life. (writegear.co.uk) His most recent project was “The Kid Who Would Be King” which he wrote and directed in 2019.