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Ten Word or Less Review: Aliens meets Boyz in the Hood.

2011 has been the year of instant cult classics.  Oddball movies marginalized or ignored by the masses but embraced by the fearless few have been popping up with increasing regularity as the ability to achieve a theatrical release becomes almost impossible for smaller, idiosyncratic efforts.  Super and Hobo With A Shotgun are leading examples.  One of the most talked about, unseen films of the year is the new to home video release Attack the Block, a British effort about a gang of hoodlums fighting off an alien invasion of their apartment building.  The geek circle went off its nut for Block but despite a mountain of online press pushing people to see it, no audience could be found.  In limited release it made a paltry $1 million.  Now widely available on various video markets, Block has a chance to find the audience so many geeks wanted it to.  It’s an interesting viewing experience to say the least, but I don’t see droves of people in this movie’s future.  Maybe a small horde, but no more.

Attack the Block is a much needed antidote to Hollywood’s worn out, big budget alien invasion genre.  With large, generic, CGI aliens, massive space ships hovering over metropolitan areas and stock characters spouting crap lines from trite dialogue 101, the alien invasion movie has become unbearable.  Block benefits in a small way from the wretched Skyline.  That disaster shares a small strand of movie DNA with Block but gave the entire genre nowhere to go but up.  Attack the Block takes the tried and true conventions of the genre and gleefully ignores them, almost to a fault.  Block’s central characters are a pack thieving, thuggish hoodlums who first encounter as they rob a lady on the street.  Interrupting their crime is a meteor which comes crashing down into a car right next to them.  Within it is a vicious little alien which after attacking one of them, the group promptly kills it and totes around like a trophy to scare girls.  Soon after, larger aliens come crashing down and before anyone knows it, the whole neighborhood is being overrun by toothy, ravenous alien invaders.

Block’s desire to run against the normal grain will be a hard pill to swallow for many and this film will be a no go almost from frame one.  Starting off your movie by having the audience hate your heroes is a tricky place to begin things.  Being sympathetic towards these blokes isn’t an option at first because they come across like a bunch of worthless, mouthy little jerks worthy of becoming alien bait.  They’re the characters you look forward to seeing devoured in movies like this.  Also, the constant barrage of aggressive and unfamiliar slang mixed with thick British accents will probably loose many a viewer.  How and why Block expects us to come around to the side of these degenerents is a strange journey that none the less takes place.  Slowly but surely Block builds a case for these characters as they rise above being a loathsome, ghetto cliche.  One by one Attack the Block shades things just enough to make the various demises which take place feel regrettable.  By its conclusion this pack of reprobates has become a group worth rooting for, or at least a group to not enjoy watch being eaten alive by freaky aliens.

Directed by Joe Cornish, Block has a busy and contemporary style, but it’s not abrasive or annoying.  It doesn’t feel over cut or too ramped up on itself.  Cornish builds a movie which sits squarely in the middle of humor and horror without being definitively one or the other.  Some may feel that because it isn’t quite either its neither.  Cornish and his creative team’s best decision may be their alien design.  With scores of aliens in other films feeling like interchangeable CGI, Block’s aliens are little more than guys in suits which look like hairy black silhouettes with lots of glowing teeth.  This simple take on a consistent sticking point of the genre makes everything work better.  Giving actors an actual physical presence to run from, as opposed to a slipshod, CGI creation, will usually be more effective for thrills.  Add to that the simple but effective look of the aliens and you’ve got a good creature to make actors scream and the audience buy into.

Despite the accolades from so many sources Attack the Block found no audience and it’s easy to understand why.  It’s a goofy, half comedy, half horror show which presents its audience with a group of thugs as protagonists speaking in a borderline incomprehensible dialect running from aliens which are not much more than fur and teeth.  The masses were never going to this movie no matter how many geeks and nerds said it was the greatest thing ever since the last great thing ever.  This is a well made lark of a film for that small percentage of appreciators who enjoy the unorthodox, contrary and weird.  If that doesn’t describe what you watch on a weekend night then stay far away from this.


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