Thursday, February 7, 2019

Attack The Block Provides A Clever Twist On Alien Invasion Movies

2009 to 2012 was a strange era for American indie cinema. To make a long story short, back in 2008 a number of high-profile American movie studios, like Warner Independent Pictures, Miramax and Paramount Vantage, dedicated to releasing limited release fare shut down. The major studios did not move to take over releasing such films and there were no new indie-centric studios created to fill the gap. While 2013 saw a comeback of sorts begin for American indie fare, mainly because of a number of sleeper hits at the 2013 box office that reinvigorated limited release fare and especially the creation of studios like A24, Amazon Studios and Netflix, indie features that tried to break through the American marketplace from 2009 to 2012 were the ones who suffered due to this dark period for indie fare at the domestic box office.

Though it's hard to imagine any scenario where the distinctly British science-fiction action/comedy Attack the Block makes Avengers: Infinity War-level money at the domestic box office, it's easy to imagine, in 2018, that a specialty distributor like A24 could get it to a solid financial haul. Instead, Sony/Screen Gems dumped it into only 66 theaters in the summer of 2011 and it took in only $1.2 million domestically. A shame Attack the Block was never given a proper domestic release because this Joe Cornish directorial effort is an incredibly charming and creative effort. We've had oodles of alien invasion movies of the year but Attack the Block easily stands apart from the pack.

Part of why Attack the Block is so unique in this subgenre of science-fiction storytelling is that the human drama in its story is outright compelling rather than just a generic distraction in between scenes of aliens blowing stuff up. That human drama comes from the lead character of Moses (John Boyega), a 15-year-old who spends much of his days hanging out and causing mayhem with his four buddies. On a seemingly normal night entailing drugs and Moses getting placed in charge of an important task by a local criminal, aliens begin to fall out of the sky and devour people. In order to survive, Moses, his pals and their neighbor Samantha Adams (Jodie Whittaker) will have to work together under some incredibly unusual circumstances.

This plot about fighting back against alien invaders functions as a coming-of-age storyline for Moses, a teenage criminal who, just like his four pals, feels protective of the tower block he calls home because, after all, what else does he have? There's another unique element of this particular take on the alien invasion subgenre, it's a more intimate spin on this storyline, one that has our lead characters fighting to stop aliens from attacking the building they live in rather than trying to pull off a plan to save the entire planet. Keeping things this grounded offers up plenty of advantages, including tension being wrung out of how Moses and his friends fear the cops just as much as they do aliens while the smaller-scale nature of the proceedings ensure that the various storylines always feel like they're properly connected to one another.

Best of all, executing Attack the Block in this manner guarantees that the personal drama related to the character of Moses doesn't get lost amidst the science-fiction mayhem. John Boyega, years before he would play one of the lead characters in a trilogy of Star Wars movies, already shows off impressive acting chops in his portrayal of a tormented youngster who's been forced to grow up way too early even before the aliens land on Earth. Boyega shares richly entertaining chemistry with his co-stars while Jodie Whittaker, another performer who would go on to an iconic sci-fi role years later, works quite well as a figure who can work as both an occasional audience point-of-view character and just an entertaining member of this ragtag group trying to stop aliens from taking over their block.

Speaking of the aliens, though Attack the Block fares wonderfully with intimate pieces of character drama, it also shows off killer (no pun intended!) creativity when it comes to the extra-terrestrial foes Moses and company face off against. I love how these furry creatures are clearly mammals in contrast to the reptilian design of most movie aliens while giving the aliens glow-in-the-dark mouths is another clever touch that results in some of the most distinctive pieces of imagery in the entire movie. Attack the Block deserved a better fate than being one of the many indie movies to get a poor American theatrical release back at the start of this decade, this is such a thrilling directorial debut for Joe Cornish that demonstrates a lot of impressive imagination in bringing a personal touch to the world of alien invason movies.

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