Why We Love: Attack the Block (2011)

Have you ever watched a movie and just knew that the lead character would be going on to bigger and better things. That person had so much charisma and force of personality, you just knew they were going to blow up in Hollywood. I’ve had that feeling only a few  times.

The first time was watching Jim Carrey on In Living Color. If you remember that show, he was truly one of the standout actors and just kept hogging more and more of the scenery, the longer he was in it. The second time was when Jamie Foxx appeared on that show.

The third time was when I saw John Boyega in Attack the Block. I wouldn’t have known anything about this movie if my local library didn’t subscribe to Empire magazine, which is where I read the first review. Since it wasn’t being released in America, I had to wait some time to buy the DVD.

I loved that movie. I loved the characters, the plot, the personal and social messages. It was fun and  funny, had some great monsters, just enough gore, an evil villain, and a wonderful hero, played by Boyega, named Moses. Every person I’ve recc’d this movie, regardless of race, age, or culture, has fallen in love with it. There’s just something about this film and its lead character that  resonates with people.

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I probably don’t need to tell you which character my niece fell in love with right away, because hey! Who didn’t fall in love with him?

This isnt the first black scifi movie, (that would probably be Brother From Another Planet, maybe) but it is notable for having a nearly all black cast, all unknowns at the time, a cameo by Nick Frost from Shaun of the Dead, and a plot where not only do most of the all black cast live to the end of the movie,they get to be the heroes, saving themselves and their community from outer space wolfdoggorilla thingies.

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Its a typical night in the British projects and Samantha gets mugged by a gang of teenage hoodlums and you think this is going to be one of those typical films where the black characters are all bad, she’s the damsel in distress and everyone will be saved by some fine upstanding white guy. What happens instead is a meteor strike, that interrupts their juvenile mugging attempt and all the young boys, Pest, Biggz, Dennis, Jerome and their leader, Moses, decide to check it out, while Samantha escapes. Investigating, they find an alien and kill it, but not before Moses gets covered in goop, while transporting it’s body to the local weed dealer’s flat.

Its these rash actions that end in all of them being heavily pursued by voracious aliens, that look sort of like the monsters from the movie Critters, except larger and with glowing teeth, and result in the deaths of several members of their gang. Although , I don’t see that it would have made much difference, because the aliens would’ve arrived on their block regardless of their actions, and would probably have killed more people.

Running away from a meteor shower of  more aliens, the boys run into the police and Moses is arrested because Samantha, who reported the mugging,  points him out. After taking both of them into custody and locking them in a van, the police are attacked by the new fallen aliens, which look different from the hairless monstrosity the gang discovered earlier, but Moses and Samantha are spirited away by the gang, who steal the police van.

In a panic, Dennis  crashes the van into  the car of the local gang leader, Hi Hatz, who angrily threatens to shoot them, but once again, they are interrupted by the aliens and Hi Hatz henchmen are killed. Everyone runs into the apartment complex,  except for Biggz, who gets trapped in a dumpster.

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They eventually find their way to Samantha’s flat, where they plead with her to nurse Dennis leg, where he has been bitten by one of the creatures. Still in pursuit of the gang, the aliens crash into the apartment and Moses takes down one of them with a Samurai sword, which he decides is his for the rest of the evening. Apparently, when you want to make a black character cool in a movie, just give them a sword, because that shit is always awesome, and never seems to get old. We also get to see John Boyega’s sword-fu, which will come in handy for swinging a light saber in Star Wars.

The gang are pursued from apartment to apartment, barely one step ahead of the aliens, and Hi Hatz, who is still mad about his car and  dead  groupies, or whatever they were. I suspect that someone as unlikeable as Hi Hatz doesn’t actually have friends. He eventually meets his end in the apartment of the one of the local drug dealers, where he has cornered the gang, where the aliens eat him.

Biggz, whose been hiding in the dumpster all evening, is saved by a couple of  little neighborhood hooligans, who set his pursuing alien on fire, using petrol, a water gun and some matches. One of the most touching moments is Biggz calling his family to say goodbye, before risking his life, by prematurely leaving the dumpster.

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It’s moments such as that which humanize the gang members and help you sympathize for their situation. You start to care about them, root for them to win, and it really hurts when they die. But above all else, you realize they are still children, trying to handle this situation as best they can because they haven’t built up enough trust with the adults around them, to count on them to come to their aid. In some cases, the adults simply are  not trustworthy.

The surviving members of Moses’ gang end up in the specialized “weed room” of the local drug dealer, where Moses discovers that he is the reason the aliens have been pursuing them all night. Killing the first alien  interrupted the creature’s mating ritual, and covered Moses in alien pheromones, which the others have been following.

It is then, in true heroic fashion, that Moses steps up, accepts responsibility for killing the alien female and getting his friends eaten, and makes the sacrifice play. Aided by Samantha and  carrying the body of the alien he killed, he leads the creatures to his empty apartment, which he and Sam have rigged to explode.

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He survives the explosion only to be arrested by the police again when he reaches the ground, having climbed down the side of the building. His friends, witnessing his arrest, rally in support of him, letting the police know that Moses probably saved the world.

I liked the messages in this film and liked that the movie captured something of what it’s like to live in a very close-knit neighborhood, where everyone knows everyone, bad and good. I love the characterization of the various boys. They’re not actually bad kids. You have Hi Hatz, as a villain, for comparison.

Samantha starts the movie pissed off at the gang, for the  mugging, which is completely understandable, but she eventually gets to know them and sticks by their side during the ordeal. After a while, you realize she’s not just hanging with them for her own safety, but because she’s starting to like and admire them, and so is the viewer.

Moses and the others start the movie as frightening stereotypes  but during the events of the night, show themselves to be more than just some neighborhood thugs. They show bravery, perseverance, and love for their friends. They even have a sense of humor as Pest has the nerve to  chastise Samantha for holding a grudge against them for mugging her.

One of the more interesting moments is when Moses and the others go to the apartment of some female friends. The girls come off  as obnoxious, at first, but they prove to be brave and fearless fighters, when the aliens break into their apartment. They  have enough fire left over from that to chastise Moses for mugging Samantha, after which they kick him out of their flat, because he’s a danger to them. These are not wilting wallflowers, waiting to be saved. They save themselves.

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In fact, that’s a recurring theme throughout the movie, the self sufficiency of the members of this community, which has been written off as a lost cause by the rest of the city. They’re used to taking care of their own problems. They don’t hunker down and simply wait to be saved by the local authorities. They’re pro-active, which is exactly what it’s like to grow up in such an environment.

And what can I say about Boyega? He tears it up as Moses, in his first onscreen role, and you can see the intensity of this actor.  He totally sells his character, in all his moments, bad and good. You can see that one day, like Moses, the world will know his name.

Moses himself is a great character, although you don’t know it at first. He may start the movie as a stereotypical thug, but he’s much deeper than that. When called upon to do the right thing, he does it. All of the gang members show honor,  bravery, and dedication and loyalty to their friends. It hurts Moses that his friends are dead, (signified by his “single man tear”), and that he is the one responsible. The least he can do is sacrifice his life to save the ones who are left.

By the end of the movie, you’ll be cheering for him too.

You’ll be cheering for all of them.

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(This review is dedicated to Finn.)