By Brian Lafferty
November 8, 2011 (San Diego) – Attack the Block is made in the same spirit as the early 1980s work of Steven Spielberg. Like E.T., it centers on a group of young boys who have a life-changing encounter with the uncanny. Like The Goonies (which was directed by Richard Donner, but everybody knows it was really Spielberg’s film) the boys in Attack the Block band together on a daring adventure to save their homes.
There are a few huge differences between these films and Attack the Block. For starters, Attack the Block is rated R and deservedly so; it’s terrifying for the young ones and it’s also bloody and violent, although such scenes are sparse. The second is that this pack of boys isn’t exactly the goody-goody Spielbergian type. They are a gang that opens the film by mugging nursing student Sam (Jodie Whittaker). After she runs off, a meteor hits a car. Emerging from it is an ugly gray creature that attacks Moses (John Boyega, in his debut film), the leader.
Later, more meteors strike. This time the creatures are male aliens who chase the boys into the block (a British equivalent of an apartment complex) and a battle begins.
These creatures are scary. The males are colored pitch-black. They have no eyes; they rely on their sense of smell to get around and find their prey. Their mouths are huge. When they’re closed, they look like eyes. When they’re open, they bare a mean set of green glow-in-the-dark teeth.
The creature design is the primary ingredient in the jumpiest jump scares since Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell. For the next few nights after I watched Attack the Block, I had to quickly turn on the lights. The night I saw it I rushed to take the garbage cans out to the front yard because I was afraid I would see a set of glowing jaws in the darkness of my backyard.
What creeped me out the most was the creatures’ lack of eyes. I’m used to seeing eyes in living things, at least things that are human-sized. By not having eyes, there’s no connection with the creatures, no way to tell how they feel, and what their next move is.
Attack the Block is scary and it’s been a long time since I’ve covered my eyes during a movie. Even the disc design makes me gasp and look away when I put it in the Blu-Ray Disc player. Every time I insert the disc, I have to mute the volume and get the movie playing as quickly as possible because one of the most effective jump scares makes its appearance on the menu.
But it’s not a horror movie. It’s not exactly a comedy, either, but it contains a lot of wit and glee. I could tell that the cast and crew had a lot of fun shooting the movie. The fun, the great times, and the enthusiasm translate to the screen. They produce so much positive energy and great vibes that it helps to offset the scares.
Cinematographer Thomas Townend and director Joe Cornish band together to create an unusually rich color palette. Usually the more brilliant the cinematography in these types of films, the less effective the thrills. The color palette, with its greens, blues, and oranges, isn’t overwhelming, but it balances the film’s thrills and wit. The Blu-Ray transfer accents these colors and the sharp contrast between light and dark.
The Blu-Ray features three commentaries. The first two feature Joe Cornish and the cast. The third features Cornish and executive producer Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). The first two have Cornish conducting a question and answer session with the cast, but it’s disorganized despite the format. Plus, what’s discussed isn’t very fruitful. The third commentary is the best by far. It’s a pleasant conversation between two friends. It consists of a cornucopia of pop culture discussions that teem with nostalgia for the movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
A Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. Director: Joe Cornish. Screenplay: Joe Cornish. Original Music: Steven Price. Cinematography: Thomas Townend. Cast: Nick Frost, Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Luke Treadaway, Alex Esmail, Paige Meade, Joey Ansah, Leeon Jones, and Terry Notary. 88 minutes. Rated R.