Cult Cinema: Attack The Block

Long before John Boyega began his Star Wars adventure, he starred in an awesome flick called Attack The Block

"Anyone seen Kylo Ren?"
When the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was announced last year, it was met with overwhelming approval by not just the usual Star Wars geeks, but film fans everywhere.  Besides reuniting Luke, Han and Leia from the original trilogy, the new film's cast included promising and acclaimed new additions such as Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and Lupita Nyong'o.  But for some, one of the more exciting announcements was the casting of a young British actor named John Boyega in a lead role.  Boyega is largely unknown to much of the world, but to anyone who saw his breakout performance in 2011's Attack the Block, he was already a superstar in the making.  With less than a month until The Force Awakens finally makes its wildly anticipated opening, it’s a great time to revisit Attack The Block and see what all the excitement over Boyega is about.

Attack The Block, a reasonable success in its UK home, had only a very limited release in the US late in the summer 2011.  The internet buzz was deafening though, and its cult following began to grow with its DVD release.  Written and directed by frequent Edgar Wright collaborator Joe Cornish, Attack the Block was quickly embraced by fans of Wright's smart, geeky style (though a cameo by Nick Frost couldn't have hurt.)  While both Attack The Block and Wright's breakout film Shaun of the Dead put interesting, fun spins on horror genre conventions, Attack The Block's humor comes from a different place.

Attack The Block offers one of the more unique settings in modern horror or sci-fi, a south London tenement apartment or "block".  Boyega is Moses, the de facto leader of a gang of block youths who take matters into their own hands when mysterious creatures begin appearing in their neighborhood.  The chemistry of the teenaged cast is flawless, their actions and dialog (delivered in very thick South London accents and slang) grounded in a refreshing reality in contrast to the increasingly insane world around them.  There is a very 1980's feel to Attack The Block, one reminiscent of films like The Goonies or The Monster Squad, with the films of Steven Spielberg (whom Cornish and Wright would later work with on The Adventures of Tintin) being an obvious and ever-present influence.

"Yup. I'm a total bad ass."

Despite this Attack the Block is very much its own film.  Most great horror and sci-fi also has a great social or political message, and this film is no different.  These are poor, disadvantaged street punks who must depend on each other because they know they can't expect help from the authorities.  They are able to muster up an amazing amount of maturity and intelligence during a time of crisis, but at the end of the days they're still kids who'd rather play FIFA on their Xboxes in the safety of their homes than save the world from the alien menace.  Each young cast member to a person rises to this occasion and delivers a perfectly balanced performance, displaying the kind of courage and solidarity that living together in such conditions can give even a young teenager.  Boyega in particular is a standout.  Moses is the cool head among the gang, showing a patience and maturity far beyond most other adults in the film, much less his own 15 years.  Jodie Whitaker's Sam, a neighbor on the block who goes from being mugged by the boys in the opening scene to their ally in the final battle, may have the more defined character arc, but it is Moses who shows the most growth, and effortlessly steps into the role of our hero.

"Hi. I'm here to trade this sword in
for a lightsaber!"
Attack The Block is still a wildly fun, refreshing, exciting movie four years and many rewatches later.  Much of this is thanks to Cornish's clever, timely writing and smart directing.  But the film is very much Boyega's show.  The charismatic Boyega's talent and maturity far exceed many actors twice his age or more.  Had Attack The Block been a huge box office success, he'd likely already be a huge superstar.  Alas, now he'll get to show the world what's he's capable of on quite possibly the largest stage imaginable in film.  He indeed already looks like a natural with a lightsaber in some of the early promo art for The Force Awakens, but anyone who saw him in Attack The Block had no reason to believe otherwise.  Film fans binging on Star Wars leading up to The Force Awakens, and anyone who loves a good, witty, fast-paced sci-fi horror flick, would be wise to brush up on Attack The Block.

-Mike Stec

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