Attack The Block - Cinema Review

'if all Science Fiction has something to say about the 'real world' then Cornish here wants to say something about the youth of today'

Depending on who you believe, Attack The Block is either the new Shaun Of The Dead or not as good as Shaun Of The Dead. Inevitably, Joe Cornish's film is nothing like Shaun Of The Dead.

To be like Shaun, Attack The Block would have to have more horror. There are horror elements here sure but the film isn't a horror piece. To be like Shaun, Attack The Block would also have to be funnier. There are witty moments in the script sure but its by no means a comedy. Instead Attack The Block is exactly what it presents itself to be: a Science Fiction adventure with more than a few nods to the coming-of-age story, and as such it does very well with both of those ideas.

Problems start to creep in though with Cornish's choice of young protagonists. A hoodie gang from a London council estate, Cornish has a hard time convincing us to care about them, even whilst this very concept is part of his underlying message. The prevalent criticism of the film is that, by the end, the protagonists aren't redeemed from their early act of mugging Sam (Jodie Whittaker) and in many respects those criticisms are justified. Much worse than that though, too many members of the group are inconsistent or anonymous. Dennis (Franz Drameh) starts the second act apologising profusely to Sam but then dramatically morphs into the group's 'hardest' character. Jerome (Leeon Jones) is woefully under-developed, whilst Biggz (Simon Howard) spends a lot of the narrative away from the group and is therefore all too easy to forget about.

This leaves our central sympathies in the hands of Moses (John Boyega) and Pest (Alex Esmail), luckily portrayed by the most accomplished actors from the group of five. Boyega has real presence and is occasionally terrifying as the gang's leader. Esmail is affable and humorous, providing much of the comedy relief.

With these two though, Cornish threatens to ruin his 'big idea'. If all Science Fiction has something to say about the 'real world' then Cornish here wants to say something about the youth of today. 'They're not all bad' - the director seems to argue - 'look at this band of misfits saving the planet'. The kids he picks to show this message though appear highly flawed. Moses may go some way to make amends but he's got a lot to make amends for; from drug dealing to knife carrying to intimidating muggings. At one point Pest, completely straight-faced, seems to suggest that the police always come after them. If they hadn't done anything in the first place this whole argument would be a lot easier to swallow.

For all those inconsistencies though, Cornish produces a well-directed film full of beautifully executed scenes. The end might feel a tad too patriotic (if it didn't involve a symbol of Britain but one of another country, one suspects it wouldn't have got such an easy ride in the tabloids) but there's no doubt that it does inspire a solid feeling of triumph. Whittaker is good whilst Luke Treadaway and Boyega stand out from the rest of the players who are understandably hit and miss on occasion. It's a good piece of Science Fiction with some notable flaws, albeit ones which don't stop Attack The Block marking Cornish out as a directing talent to watch.

Look further...

'there is no single moment where the kids realise the error of their ways, but a series of little moments that betray humanity beneath the faceless hoodies and silent scarves' - The 24th Frame


  1. I’m glad to see that your review focuses on how unlikeable the characters are. This is the main stumbling block in the film – by the end they haven’t properly redeemed themselves and remain just as unlikeable and as such I spent the whole film hoping the aliens would get them. Except herein lies the next problem – the aliens, despite having an interesting visual idea, just pose no threat whatsoever. There were so many scenes when I never felt like there was any danger to the characters it was futile rooting for the aliens. So what does that leave? It wasn’t scary as the jumps were so obviously signposted and it wasn’t particularly funny either, although I did chuckle a couple of times. Plus it dragged, which for a film that’s less than 90 minutes is a sin. On the plus side though it was very well shot and lit and I thought the scenes that made use of the smoke generated by fireworks were the most effective in the film.

    Overall – not the worst film I’ve seen this year but I wouldn’t bother watching it again. I’m really confused why it’s generated so much critical buzz etc.

  2. Agree with your final point about the critical buzz. I obviously enjoyed it slightly more than you did but it's difficult to see where people have pulled five star reviews from. Agree on the smoke scenes as well - clever and well directed, which I also think applies to the final scene with Moses in the kitchen. Great use of slow-mo and the score.