The Best Movie Critic + sxsw

SXSW: Attack the Block

Hey gang, Ben here. I just got back from Austin. I'm sporting a pretty impressive SXSW hangover, in both the figurative and literal sense. I saw a disproportionate amount of great movies while I was at the festival, and over the next few days I'll share about as many as I can until my poor lil' fingers give out.

There was perhaps no greater premiere at South by Southwest this year than Joe Cornish's Attack the Block. This movie came so out of left field it could never live up to its brief but furious hype, yet it somehow does. I have my nitpicks, but overall this is the sort of original, exciting sci-fi blockbuster we haven't seen in ages. It is also strikingly modern. A cult movie for the dubstep kids!

Attack the Block has one of the greatest opening sequences to grace screens in a long time. Sam (Jodi Whittiker) is walking home from work in a sketchy part of south London when she's attacked and mugged by a group of street hooligans. Before they can harm her, and before you've even had a chance to grab a handful of popcorn, a meteor crashes into a car right next to them. When a gnarly looking alien emerges from the wreckage, the gang, lead by the charismatic, brooding Moses (John Boyega), forgets their original prey and instead chases after the creature to, ya know, beat the living shit out of it. In one fell swoop Joe Cornish, his actors, and his effects guys set up Attack the Block's sense of danger and atmosphere, its classic 80s sci-fi vibe, and its wicked sense of humor. Of course, it's only a matter of minutes before more alien-bearing asteroids crash into the projects, this time carrying bigger, nastier baddies. It's up to Moses and his crew to protect the block... and the former target of their aggression, Sam.

Credit for Attack the Block's success is due almost entirely to its phenomenal, young, mostly amateur cast. Sure, Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Paul) steals a few scenes as the neighborhood pot grower, and a few of the other actors have been around. But the gang are all newcomers. It's a romantic story: street kids picked up out of the same crime-ridden neighborhoods the movie is about and turned into stars. Luckily, these kids are so good, so believable, so relatable, and so laugh-out-loud funny, that they supersede any of the mythology that is sure to grow around them. John Boyega layers gang leader Moses with sadness, pride, cunning, and fucking balls of steel. His character is the crux of the movie, and if there's any justice in the world his performance should lead him to stardom. I would love to highlight some of the other first-time cast members, but there is simply too little information on the internetz about this yet to be purchased flick to decipher who played who. I'm kicking myself for not taking notes, because there are some phenomenal fresh young faces to watch out for. The loud mouthed scrawny white kid, in particular, is a knock-out.

The other half of this winning formula is Attack the Block's otherworldly effects work. The space creatures are a shade of black you've never seen in the movies before, with glowing teeth in lieu of glowing eyes. My SXSW buddies and I debated about which effects were CGI and which were practical. At times it's difficult to tell. The creatures are difficult to accurately describe, a point that is slyly acknowledged in the dialogue itself. Characters struggle to articulate how these creatures are "like a big dog, no more like a bear, but different." Then to get even more screwy, these things move like gorillas. It's uncanny.

It will take an additional viewing to tell for sure, but I think where Attack the Block falls just shy of the OMG I LUV YOU 4EVER level of genre classic is the pacing. The comedy is directed and edited perfectly, which makes sense as Joe Cornish is an Edgar Wright protege. The action and suspense, however, feels ever-so-slightly rushed. There are scenerios that should be very familiar to fans of suspenseful movies - the "quietly sneaking past the creatures" setup, for instance. These moments never quite achieve the gravity they fleetingly suggest. For a flick that moves at such a relentless pace, I almost wish the ending would have had a little more... something. With that said, what's there shines. Truth.

I can't wait for all you fools to see this shit. Attack the Block capitalizes on all kinds of hipster fetishes. It's John Carpenter enough for movie geeks, but it also appeals to the London-obsessed electronic music, fashion, and culture crowds. I almost forgot to mention the pitch perfect Basement Jaxx score. This is the action/horror/comedy movie we deserve.

Attack the Block. Much love. Respect.

-Ben

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SXSW: Attack the Block + sxsw