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On DVD: “Attack the Block” Has More Fun By Dismissing Subtext and Keeping True Villainy Vague

On DVD: "Attack the Block" Has More Fun By Dismissing Subtext and Keeping True Villainy Vague

Don’t wait for the American remake of Joe Cornish’s “Attack the Block,” even if — or especially if — Hollywood listens to me and gets that right, “Let Me In” style, combined with a more sideways sort of rehash. Now that the sci-fi festival favorite is on home video, I suspect it will become the kind of “cult” hit that actually has too many fans to be considered a “cult” hit. Just like “Shaun of the Dead,” which is directed by “ATB”‘s producer, Edgar Wright. People really love this movie, and even cynics like myself are properly entertained. You might be curious enough to see this in anticipation of Cornish’s two upcoming co-writing efforts, “The Adventures of Tintin” and “Ant-Man.” Also, there will likely be a sequel, so you’re going to need to see the original at some point.

Whatever your reason for seeing it, one reason you ought to appreciate it is that the movie just is what it is, a story of creatures landing in a dangerous neighborhood in London and getting their butts kicked by a gang of young hoodlums. No lame exposition or secret subtext is necessary when something is simply entertaining. The fact that it’s conscious of this makes it even cooler in my mind. Here’s what I wrote after seeing the film at SXSW in a joint-review with “The Divide” and “Phase 7”:

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.

When “ATB” hit theaters, I wrote about it in context with another couple of films, the Spielbergian “Super 8” and “Let Me In.” I thought a slight bit further on the idea of its simplicity and how vagueness implies a graying sense of villain:

“Attack the Block,” the upcoming alien invasion romp that’s also nostalgic of the 1980s, though less for direct Spielberg stuff than the creature features that were only slightly linked, such as “Critters” (a kind of knock off of the Spielberg-produced “Gremlins”) and “Tremors” (co-written by two-time Spielberg collaborator Brent Maddock), not to mention the era’s youth gang-oriented plots somewhat originating with but not exclusive to Spielberg (films like “The Goonies,” “Stand by Me” and “Explorers”—maybe even “Red Dawn”—are also heavily felt throughout “Super 8”). In “Attack,” as I’ve previously pointed out, a kid says the source of the creatures is likely the government, which is just throwing another killer into the hood, like what it did previously with drugs and guns. The joke there is that the film aims for more simplicity in its implications. It’s really just evil aliens.


“Attack,” which opens in the U.S. at the end of July, doesn’t venture into such passive-minded territory. It may not put an origin to the evil creatures, but it maintains that there are threats, whether domestic or foreign, and regardless of source they must be defended against, perhaps on small scales with individual or limited-number groups. It’s like how the “Red Dawn” remake can just be rewritten (even after filming) to allow the invading threat to be anyone. Despite what Hollywood seems to be doing with its nostalgic recycling of the easy Cold War black and white ideas of good and evil, and what it might wish to be doing as far as reworking those times for cloudy, graying visions, villainy can be found anywhere and everywhere whatever the setting.

“Attack the Block” is now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Recommended If You Like: “Critters”; “The Goonies”; “Tremors”

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