DVD Catch-Up: Attack the Block(12/7/2011)

Ever since Attack the Block premiered at the South By Southwest film festival early this year the internet has not been able to shut up about it.  As is often the case when fun genre films like Kick-Ass or Cowboys Vs. Aliens debuts at a regional genre film festivals (like SXSW, Fantastic Fest, Comic-Con) I see a wave of hyperbolic praise all through the year whenever it comes up.  If only that internet hysteria translated into anyone in the real world giving a damn.  People cared so little about this particular movie that the distributors never even bothered to open it in my city, a development which annoyed me to no end because it robbed me of my chance to be part of that discussion.  By the time it came out on DVD and Blu-Ray I was about ready to say “fuck that movie, if the distributors didn’t think my city was good enough for it I’m never seeing the damn thing.”  Eventually cooler head did prevail and I did decide to give the film a shot

The high concept at play is “aliens invade a London housing project.”  Specifically these aliens are furry black little things with glowing wolf-like jaws, and they’ve landed in “the block” amidst Guy Fawkes Day celebrations which have hidden the decent of their space craft.  Instead of running into the military or a group of scientists or the police they run into a gang of teenage malcontents who had recently mugged a woman and stolen her engagement ring.  Naturally these young guys react by stabbing the shit out of the first alien they see, and bringing it back to their building in order to sell it to a tabloid.  What they don’t anticipate is that they will soon be besieged by other aliens who will leave them fighting for their lives.

To some extent I am pretty sympathetic with what the filmmakers are trying to do here.  We’ve seen dozens of movies where aliens, monsters, Russians, or what have you have attacked the suburbs and provided young white kids with an adventure, and it is nice to see urban youth getting this kind of treatment for once.  The filmmakers also don’t soften the fact that these young people are malcontented hoodlums, in the very first scene they’re seen robbing someone at knifepoint and we also see them hanging around with some really dangerous looking criminals who grow reefer in an apartment high up in the housing tower.  The film doesn’t excuse these kids’ sometimes criminal behavior but it doesn’t judge them either, it simply accepts that they’ve been led to a certain lifestyle by their environment and allows them to proceed from there.

Make no mistake, this is a fun movie, but I’ve seen a lot of people go really overboard with their praise for it.  For one thing I think the alien invasion and the world’s reaction to it doesn’t really make a lot of sense.  We see the aliens here cause a lot of carnage all over this neighborhood and their actions generally aren’t subtle, and yet the movie also seems to want us to believe that no authorities or media figures witness any of it and that everything that happens is supposed to be a mystery to everyone except the central cast of kids.  Additionally, the production values here are very middle-tier.  The aliens look almost comical rather than truly menacing and the action is generally very small scale and not overly ambitious.  The characters are also kind of thin; the various gang members didn’t do much to distinguish themselves aside from their leader, Moses, and when a couple of them were finally picked off I can’t say any of them had done enough to distinguish themselves.

I understand why so many people are so enthusiastic about this thing; it’s fun to feel like you’ve discovered something that your friends don’t necessarily know about, especially when it’s an accessible genre film that can be recommended to the average movie-goer without worrying that they’d find it pretentious and challenging.  Pop the Blu-ray in some Saturday night with friends and enjoy, but let’s not make this into something it isn’t.  This isn’t that much smarter or more unique than the average Hollywood genre film and I wouldn’t call it better crafted either.

*** out of Four

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