On paper, it might not sound like it would work: a mash-up of alien-invasion thriller and teen-stoner comedy. They're two genres that wouldn't seem to make sense together, with the paranoid intensity of the former a potentially odd fit for the laid-back laughs of the latter.
But "Attack the Block" is a giddy blast, remaining faithful to both of its points of origin while offering something new and refreshing that confidently stands on its own.
Writer-director Joe Cornish, a British comic and television host making his first feature, has crafted a low-budget adventure with propulsive energy and plenty of laughs. With its tweaking of styles and its dry humor in the face of absurd danger, it's sure to draw comparisons to the neo-zombie hit "Shaun of the Dead" (not to mention that that film's director, Edgar Wright, is a producer here and Nick Frost appears in both).
"Attack the Block" is already developing a cult following through midnight film-festival showings, and deservedly so; it's definitely a movie you want to watch in a raucous, packed house.
Set in a South London housing project over the course of a single night, "Attack the Block" begins with a racially mixed group of thugs holding up a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. Then something drops from the sky, and soon more things are dropping from the sky, and it quickly becomes obvious that these are not meteors. These are dark, furry, carnivorous space creatures with glow-in-the-dark teeth. They run, leap, scale buildings — and more of them are on their way. That they don't look glossy and perfect is one of the film's many charms.
Under the leadership of the stoic Moses (John Boyega), the gang members scramble to survive, and ultimately must team up with the woman they themselves attacked at the film's start. They temporarily take refuge at the top-floor dwelling of perpetually stoned pot dealer Ron (Frost); his place seems the safest of all because it contains a heavily secured grow room. Plus, you know, you don't mind the prospect of being devoured by aliens if you're baked out of your mind. (The drug jokes drew the biggest laughs at a recent screening in Los Angeles.)
One beautifully edited sequence follows the teens as they scurry down cramped stairways and through dingy corridors, then burst into their respective apartments to grab whatever makeshift weapons they can find. The brief snippets of conversation they exchange with their parents remind us that despite the bravado and petty crime that mark their daily lives, these are just kids after all.
But because they're kids — and they're not all terribly smart kids — they're also fascinated by these invaders. One amusing subplot follows a pair of 9-year-olds who call themselves Probs (Sammy Williams) and Mayhem (Michael Ajao), and long desperately to tag along with the older guys. All the young actors bounce off each other beautifully, and because they're unknowns, there's a raw realism to their interactions; it also means that they're not always up for the dramatic moments they're eventually called upon to play.
Still, at a time of year in which overblown spectacles tend to dominate, the scrappy, let's-put-on-a-show enthusiasm here is a bolt from the blue.
"Attack the Block," a Sony Screen Gems release, is rated R for creature violent, drug content and pervasive language. Running time: 87 minutes. Three stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G — General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.
R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.