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From Under A Rock: Attack the Block

August 11, 2018 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
Attack the Block
8.6
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From Under A Rock: Attack the Block  

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I (Michael) picked this movie merely because of the cool monster design and the simplicity of a good sci-fi/horror.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose Do the Right Thing. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him Attack the Block.

Attack the Block
Released: May 11, 2011 (United Kingdom)
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Written by: Joe Cornish
Starring:
John Boyega as Moses
Jodie Whittaker as Samantha Adams
Alex Esmail as Pest
Franz Drameh as Dennis
Nick Frost as Ron

Michael Ornelas: To be honest, I remembered liking this movie when I first saw it, but I really wanted to rewatch it because John Boyega’s in it and I didn’t remember it too much. After his Star Wars projects, I’ve come to really like him, so checking out where he started from seemed like fun.

Aaron Hubbard: This was charming in it’s low budget approach, and its concept of wannabe street thugs vs. fuzzy alien beast is fun and original.
Monsters
Show the Creature
Michael: There’s an age-old debate in creature features as to whether you show your monster, or build suspense before letting the audience have a peek. Do you show it a couple times? Do you show it often? Do you show it early? In my opinion it all depends on how good your monster actually looks, how many of them there are, and how good of a visual storyteller you are. In the case of Attack the Block, we see a version of the monster pretty early on, and then we get a good look at the whole thing still relatively early into the running time, and I think it’s an excellent choice. The green, glowing teeth of these perfectly black creatures give off a really slick alien vibe, and I think they made the right call because of what they were working with.

Aaron: The alien monsters are probably what’s going to stick with me most from here. I loved their design, which was scary but also looked like it could be a stuffed animal. I also like that we get the female alien before the herd of male aliens comes after. It reminded me of how Alien introduces the facehugger before giving us the xenomorph. Not very often I can compare the same alien to an H.R. Giger monster and Stitch, but that’s what this movie gave me. That unique combination of elements makes for a unique, fun and memorable menace.

Michael: The sound that emanated from them whenever they opened their mouths to reveal the glowing teeth was also very understated, but a cool detail. All in all, one of the better monster designs in recent memory.
Stars
A Star-Maker
Aaron: As you mentioned, a lot of the appeal in going back to this movie for us was because of John Boyega. He’s obviously a big star now thanks to playing one of the main roles in the current batch of Star Wars movies, and I also enjoyed him in Pacific Rim: Uprising. He’s just 26 years old (about 18 or 19 when this movie was filming) and likely has a long, memorable career ahead of him. I also couldn’t help noticing that Jodie Whittaker had a major role in this, and she’s now the first female Doctor in Doctor Who (something I really need to get back into). Watching a movie with these talents before they really got famous is exciting, but it’s also a reminder that it’s worth going out of your way to watch smaller movies because you never know when you’re seeing a star in the making.

Michael: If it weren’t for Oscar Isaac, Boyega would be my favorite actor in the new Star Wars regime. He has this vulnerable quality about him so that even if he’s playing a punk like he did in this movie, he can turn that on and become instantly sympathetic, in an underdog sort of way. And Jodie Whittaker…I had no idea that was the new Doctor! Like, I knew the new Doctor was a lady, but didn’t put it together what else she had been in. This just got me really excited for the next season of Doctor Who because she was lovely in this. And unlike you, I’m all caught up!

Aaron: Clara ruined the show for me, but I heard there were amazing episodes anyway. But overall, it was cool to see these talents in a smaller sci-fi movie. I doubt they ever expected they’d be front and center for two mega franchises.
Punks
Redemption
Michael: This film made the choice to follow a group of protagonists that are criminals, and therefore inherently unlikable…but are still bubbling over with sympathy based on the mere fact that they seem like misguided youths (and some are quite charismatic too, so it’s easier to be on-board with liking them). Throughout the course of the movie, some are killed off while others show moments of true courage and it’s actually a lot of fun to cheer them on. Our grounded nurse character – Sam – is the victim of a mugging early on, and yet we still feel like she’s just being stuffy when the kids who robbed her are in her apartment trying to take shelter from the beasts. Throughout the rest of the movie, they form a bond, their hand forced by sheer survival instincts, and it’s quite the journey to watch the young punks find redemption.

Aaron: I think Attack the Block takes an interesting approach by going for teenage “hoodies” as the protagonists. There’s no shortage of movies where young kids or adults encounter aliens, but what about kids trying to make their presence known in the world by being “badass”? It’s a fresh starting point, and it also gives Attack the Block a bit of a social conscience without hitting the audience over the head with it. The monsters only attack the gang, because they have the pheromones of the female monster. And the rest of the world is basically blind to it, except for Sam (a victim from their earlier crime) and several dead witnesses. When Moses and the rest manage to defeat the aliens, they are still arrested for all the death caused by the aliens. So they’re victims of something out of their control and exclusive to them, they fight back against it and try to make something of themselves, and society still punishes them for it. It’s remarkably subtle in an era where social commentary is often too on the nose, and in line with the 1950’s and 60’s sci-fi B-Movies that Attack the Block draws inspiration from.

Michael: All these layers and yet on the surface, we still get a really fun monster flick. Literally my favorite kind of movie: those you can watch for fun, or dive deeper and find something poignant to say. It’s why I gravitate to horror so much, I think.

Ratings:
Aaron: I think I might need to give this a couple more rewatches, as it moves at such a brisk pace that I’m sure I missed things. But for my first viewing, I really enjoyed it. It’s got a cool premise, awesome monsters, a talented cast, and is just fresh and different enough to stand out.

B+

Michael: A bit of a bummer, but this movie only made about half of its 8 million GBP budget back. But as far as I’m concerned, that has no bearing on the quality of the film and for me, this was a perfectly fun creature feature that had a superb young cast on display, cool monsters, and a simple but effective premise.

A-

Aaron: This was a really fun movie and feels exactly like the kind of hidden gem you would be showing to your friends. Great pick.

Michael: Thanks! Next week’s, on the other hand, is anything but “hidden” as far as its gem status, and I have somehow managed to never watch it.

What’s your favorite horror/sci-fi creature design in recent memory?

Next week:

Aaron: This is gonna be a fun pick for me, an old school spy thriller with a bit of science fiction added in.
Manchurian
Michael: I like doing this column with you because you pick the classics for me that I’d never have gotten to if left to my own devices. I’m expecting good things.

Aaron: I liked this movie so much that I used a picture of Sinatra’s character for my avatar on Letterboxd.

What is the best Cold War paranoia movie?

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8.6
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Attack the Block is an awesome little independent movie. It's got memorable aliens, talented stars before they got big, and a bit of social commentary to boot. It feels like something from the 1950s or 1960s but with well-executed, modern CGI. We both recommend it highly.
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