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SXSW 2011: First Idea is to Blame the Government in “Attack the Block,” “The Divide” and “Phase 7”

SXSW 2011: First Idea is to Blame the Government in "Attack the Block," "The Divide" and "Phase 7"

For a while there, movies about alien invasions and zombies and viral outbreaks were complicated by their insistence to make the government or some similar higher power the true villain. Never mind the thing that was literally killing people, though that is a frightening threat all its own. The ultimate evil was the scientists, military, politicians, etc., who originally created or ordered the wickedness that got out of control. It reflected many conspiracy theories, which pinned most anything on the government. But now we’ve got two films, both at SXSW, that merely return to theorizing rather than full-on implicating those usual suspects. They are “Attack the Block” and “Phase 7.”

The latter deals with a global pandemic of some kind, the true origins of which are never revealed. As I mentioned in my review from Miami, though, at one point a survivalist character accuses the world governments, and the wealthy, of unleashing this disease on the people of the earth, for the benefit of the economy. The idea sounds both plausible and unlikely at the same time, yet it’s easy to imagine another film going with that direction more fully. The point is that it’s an easy first suspect for attributing a disaster.

Even in the similarly set-up midnight movie “The Divide,” also at SXSW, a character moves on from the idea that the opening nuclear attack on NYC is by terrorists in order to offer a possibility that it was a domestic military accident. For the narrative at hand, it doesn’t really matter, and while “The Divide” features a moment where strange scientific experiments are taking place, the scene is unresolved and ultimately completely irrelevant that it’s as if it’s not even there. Besides, there’s never a connection made between that stuff and the origins of the nukes (seriously the movie is nonsensical for the most part).

My favorite of this current commonality among genre flicks is the accusation made in “Attack the Block” regarding the source of the dark, luminescent-mouthed space apes causing mayhem in a London neighborhood. Clearly we see them coming from the sky, but that hasn’t really mattered in the century since air and space travel. They could still have been dropped by the air force or something. And so it’s not strange for one of the film’s gang member characters (I think it was Moses) to hypothesize that this is just the latest thing the government has sent in to kill black people. First it was the drugs, he says, then the guns, and since “we’re just not killing each other fast enough,” third phase is these genetically altered gorillas.

I like that the film itself never says this, only a character. It doesn’t actually care to be about anything more on that matter than offering up a side thought. Again, it’s not important where the creatures come from. Plus, it’s already enough that “Attack the Block” hits a few of the expectant notes of having cops accusing the black teen protagonists (who, it’s worth noting, are criminals to begin with, after all) of causing all the death and destruction that the aliens are responsible for. I’m guessing that this has already been a staple of blaxploitation sci-fi and horror films — anyone seen “Leprechaun in the Hood” and can confirm if it has such mistaken accusations? — but I don’t think there’s ever been a film that touched on the issue of governments corrupting minorities like this.

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