Friday, April 18, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Attack the Block’: thrills in the ‘hood

Having made it to the relative safety of their high-rise apartment building, our unlikely heroes — clockwise from lower left, Jerome (Leeon Jones), Brewis (Luke Treadaway), Sam (Jodie Whittaker), Moses (John Boyega) and Pest (Alex Esmail) — carefully peer down the corridor before stepping out of the elevator. They don't know much yet, but they do know that whatever's hunting them can move very quickly. Courtesy photo

By
From page A9 | September 9, 2011 | Leave Comment

‘Attack the Block’

3.5 stars

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Nick Frost, Luke Treadaway, Alex Esmail, Jumayn Hunter

Rating: R, for violence, gore, pervasive profanity and drug content

Audacity and enthusiasm count for a lot in filmmaking, and this flick has plenty of both.

Writer/director Joe Cornish, crafting an impressive big-screen debut after some work in British TV, makes the most of a modest budget and delivers a rip-snortin’ action comedy that hits the ground running and never lets up.

“Attack the Block” will be embraced by fun-loving genre fans who enjoyed the blend of giggles and grue found in “Shaun of the Dead.” And while Cornish’s film isn’t quite as gory, this cheeky saga has its moments; the faint of heart should proceed with caution.

Cornish works a lot into his alternately whimsical and savage script: intriguing character dynamics, a clever understanding of reproductive biology — don’t worry, that’ll make sense in context — and even some perceptive social commentary. This is a tale of stepping up to the plate: of heroes so unlikely that they’re basically … well … thugs.

The film opens as trainee nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) walks home late one night: not the smartest move, since she lives in an inner-city South London tower block. No surprise, then, when she’s mugged by a quintet of masked, hooded teenage thugs, led by the knife-wielding Moses (John Boyega).

Sam is saved by an unlikely interruption: a bright meteorite that smashes into a nearby parked car. She flees; Moses and his crew investigate, only to be attacked by a small but vicious something. Moses, sensing a possible loss of face, tracks the creature to a small shed and kills it.

So far, Cornish’s approach has been gritty, scary and mean. But now the tone softens, as the boys shed their hoods — revealing most of them to be much younger and “smaller” than expected — and drag the alien carcass to the top of the block, making sure that everybody sees how they’ve defended their “territory.”

But nobody believes that the dead thing is real. The local drug lord — a truly dangerous, gun-toting psychopath dubbed Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter) — thinks it’s just a movie-prop puppet. Veteran stoner Ron (Nick Frost), who runs a cannabis-growing farm on the council house’s top floor, can’t really be bothered to venture an opinion.

The only one who does regard the creature as something real is posh pretender Brewis (Luke Treadaway), a well-educated geek from some nearby university, who’s visiting only to score some weed … and nobody cares about his opinions.

At that moment, a second, much larger wave of meteorites strikes all over the neighborhood. Expecting more small creatures like the first, Moses leads his crew outside for battle. But these creatures are nothing like the first one; these are bigger, faster and much, much nastier.

Elsewhere, Sam is being driven around the neighborhood by police officers, in the hopes that she’ll spot the kids who attacked her. She does, just as Moses and his friends are fleeing these new alien attackers. Sam quickly discovers that her previous encounter pales in the face of this much greater, shared threat … and soon our half-dozen or so protagonists are trapped within their own tower block, doing their best to stave off a veritable army of dark, half-seen, razor-toothed nightmares.

Cornish gets considerable mileage out of his modest $13 million budget, starting with the marvelously menacing creatures, which remain scarier because they’re never quite fully revealed. (At long last: a director who understands the power of subtlety!) But none of this would matter a jot if we didn’t bond with the characters, and that’s the best part of Cornish’s approach: He gets us to like people who are — at least initially — far from likeable.

They’re also far from intelligible, thanks to an impenetrable mix of thick British accents and inner-city argot … and this is deliberate. Cornish, intrigued by the similarly opaque “droogs” in “A Clockwork Orange,” and the verisimilitude of dialect used in books such as “The Color Purple” or “Butcher Boy,” uses this technique to make Moses and his crew more frightening when Sam first encounters them. We simply don’t understand what these kids are saying, which adds to the menace of the scene.

But as the film continues, Cornish has his actors speak more slowly and distinctly, and we also begin to absorb their jargon; we grow more comfortable in their presence, just as Sam — eventually — is forced to.

Once the masks and hoods are down, as well, they become distinct individuals. Boyega gets the most screen time, which allows him to establish Moses’ contradictions: The boy is stoic, strong and silent … but he’s also willing to stand back and reconsider a situation. Most crucially, the surface swagger is a pose, as Sam discovers when she investigates his flat.

Alex Esmail is a hoot as the aptly named Pest: a sharp-tongued motormouth who serves as the crew’s demolitions “expert” … albeit only with fireworks. Leeon Jones plays Jerome: more studious than the others, and likely a dedicated student if he hadn’t fallen amongst these companions for self-preservation.

Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao make quite an impression as Probs and Mayhem, a pair of 9-year-old gang wannabes who resent the condescending attitude of the older kids, and decide to do something about it.

Frost, an easily recognized veteran of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Paul” and “Hot Fuzz,” supplies pure comic relief: the stoner too blitzed to really process what’s going down.

Aside from Boyega’s Moses, most of the dramatic heft comes from Whittaker — well remembered as the teen who tantalized Peter O’Toole in 2006′s “Venus” — who has the tough job of selling Sam’s decision to fall in with gangbangers who (she believes) easily might have killed her a few hours earlier. As a result, she also becomes the token “adult” and voice of reason … assuming the others will listen to her. Whittaker deftly handles Sam’s crucial switch of allegiance.

Cornish makes excellent use of the disconcerting, dilapidated setting: the council house with its long, dark hallways that are illuminated only when somebody triggers a sensor that activates the lights. Sometimes.

Yes, this film’s modest budget betrays it at times. The film stock is grainy, and cinematographer Thomas Townend occasionally keeps things a bit too dark; we need to see enough to appreciate the dangers, or lack thereof. But these are minor quibbles that certainly won’t interfere with the thrill ride Cornish orchestrates so well.

He’s just as talented as Carpenter was, this early in his own career. Let’s hope Cornish makes better use of the opportunities certain to come his way, in the wake of this engaging debut.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

News

Former caretaker convicted of murder, elder abuse

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1, 2 Comments | Gallery

 
Old friend helps Brad and others find kidneys

By Dave Jones | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Chuck Rairdan joins school board race

By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1

Going green at church, school, everywhere

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
For the record

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

 
UCD to host Global Health Day event

By Cory Golden | From Page: A2

Ukraine insurgents reject call to quit buildings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

 
Need a new best friend?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
‘Hitchhiking’ dog looking for new home

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Online K-12 school holds info night

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Volkssporting Club plans North Davis walks

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Schwenger lawn signs available

By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

Volunteers needed for Grad Night

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Davis grad makes rain collection a business

By Jason McAlister | From Page: A4 | Gallery

A few spots left on history tour

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Chipotle fundraiser boosts Emerson tech upgrade

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Event to provide nature scholarship

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Students have new options on leasing front

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Groups join for a day of service

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
NAMI backers walk in Sacramento

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

 
Food for the hungry

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

.

Forum

Dad makes mom look bad

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

 
More tax money? Answer the question

By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

 
UCD IS responsible for students

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6

 
In search of great ideas

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Please keep the nursery open

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

 
Early help is a great investment

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

.

Sports

Aggies lose a slugfest in opener at Riverside

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

 
Fox coming to UCD; Riffle heads to Florida

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

DHS’ Golston goes full-bore on the diamond

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Devils show more life in loss to Mitty

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Sharks double up Kings in Game 1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
DYSA roundup: Intensity has big week; 10U games dominate schedule

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Pro baseball roundup: Susac sends Sacramento to a rare loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
Sports briefs: Aggies set the academic bar high

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

.

Arts

‘The Bloom’ paves way for Whole Earth Festival

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
DHS tribute to Tony Fields slated for April 25-26

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

UCD, city team up for Music on the Green

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

 
‘Transcendence’: A whole new level of tedium

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A11 | Gallery

.

Business

Ford turns its Focus to domestic market

By Ali Arsham | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Comics: Friday, April 18, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A9

 
.

Real Estate Review

Featured Listing

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

Professional Services Directory

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

Lyon Real Estate

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

Jamie Madison

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Yolo FCU

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Acacia at Huntington Square

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Travis Credit Union

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER5

Kim Eichorn

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

Suzanne Kimmel

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER6

Lynne Wegner

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

Kim Merrel Lamb

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER7

Chris Snow

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

Patricia Echevarria

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER8

Don Guthrie

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Andrew Dowling

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Sheryl Patterson

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER9

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER10

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER11

Julie Partain & Dick Partain

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

Heather Barnes

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER12

Malek Baroody

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER13

Karen Waggoner

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

Willowbank Park

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER14

Team Traverso

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Julie Leonard

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Tim Harrison

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER15

Tracy Harris

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

Lori Prizmich

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER16

Raul Zamora

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

Joe Kaplan

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER17

Coldwell Banker

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER18

Open House Map

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER19

F1rst Street Real Estate

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER20