Post contains spoilers per my policy
I love alien invasion movies but it seems like Hollywood has been…scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit both in terms of plot and also in regards to the aliens themselves. When I first heard about Attack the Block I was intrigued; the setting, a low-income South London council estate? Ok, haven’t seen that one before. And then the aliens themselves, large ape/wolf/dog creatures with true black fur and teeth that glow? I saw pictures of them and was ecstatic that we weren’t going to be subjected to another lame xenomorph knock off.
AtB is the story of Moses, the leader of a gang of teenagers, living in a council estate in South London. The movie opens with Moses and company mugging Sam, a nurse who also lives in the same state, but things go weird when the mugging is interrupted by something falling from the sky and obliterating a nearby car. Sam takes the moment of distraction to run and Moses is attacked by something as he tries to rifle through the now-open car looking for valuables. The creature leaps on him, scratches his face, and then runs off but not before he stabs it. The gang tracks down the creature to a nearby shed where they kill it. It looks like a white furred chimp with no eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth and the boy happily drag the carcas back to the estate.
While they are there they leave it in the “weed room” (it’s a room…full of weed) of Ron, played by Nick Frost of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame. The local drug dealer High-Hatz recruits Moses to sell some drugs for him and while the gang is hanging out and smoking weed they see more objects falling from the sky. Amped up from their earlier kill, the boys all run to their homes, collect various weapons, and go out to go alien slaying.
Only these aliens aren’t like the other one. While the first was much smaller, these things are huge, gorilla-sized, and pissed. The rest of the movie details the boys’ flight from the aliens and High-Hatz, who wants to kill Moses after the boys accidentally ruin his car and get one of his henchmen killed by an alien. Several of the gang die, they join up with Sam, and eventually the aliens are defeated by an exploding gas-filled apartment after they are lured there by Moses.
While this write-up is a bit brief on the details, it’s not because the movie isn’t deep or deserving of going into a greater description of the film; it’s not that trying to describe everything that’s going on isn’t worth it, just that trying to detail everything would be monumental.
AtB is really a story about these kids and their growing up set against the backdrop of an alien invasion, which is the catalyst for their growth. At the beginning of the movie you see them acting like, well, crappy teenagers when they mug Sam. They hang out with drug dealers, who they think are cool, and it is the height of glory when High-Hatz gives Moses some drugs to sell (the character Pest, who is one of the best things about this movie, exclaims Moses is “moving up”). The chasing down and killing of the alien is an impulsive, emotional decision made in the moment without any consideration for consequences (a point driven home later by one of the girls the gang likes to flirt with, as they look down on the dead body of one of the gang, when she tells Moses “Things have consequences, Moses.”). You’d think that some people would understand that lesson without needing their friends to be eaten by alien gorillas with chompers like a techno rave but Moses did and, thankfully, he gets it.
One of the most poignant parts of the film is when Sam is going to prep Moses’ apartment to turn it into a bomb. The place is a mess covered in empty fast food containers and on her way to the kitchen she sees a bedroom. It’s filled with the clutter of childhood and on the bed is a Spiderman blanket but when Sam asks him if he has a little brother he says “No.” When she asks him how old he is he discloses he’s fifteen. Earlier in the movie we were given looks into the home life of the other gang members when they went to collect their weapons but Moses apartment was left out, we only see him enter but never the inside of the apartment. To me, that reads that he really doesn’t have a home, that it’s just an empty place to sleep and store some things. His real home, the one he decides to take responsibility for, is the block and his gang (and Sam by the end of the movie) is clearly his family whom he is willing to die to protect.
The true joy of this movie, however, is watching the kids interact with each other and around them. The patois they use is amusing, as is the bluster of them trying to be tough. Their interactions with each other and everyone else feels natural and genuine. While not a lot of time is spent on the back stories of these kids, we are given enough details where we definitely felt a connection with them; I know that when one of them died, I won’t say which one, Michelle and I both were saddened.
AtB isn’t a necessarily a complex movie but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. As an action film it exceeds in my opinion and the quality, I think, is top-notch. This movie is available on DVD and on a variety of streaming services, watch it, I think you’ll like it.