John Boyega (in a star making role) stars as Moses, the thoughtful leader of a gang in South London. On Guy Fawkes night Moses and his gang rob a young woman Samantha (Jodie Whitaker) to impress the local ganglord HI-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). Our first impression of these characters is a negative one that plays on stereotypes: the non-white gang harassing a helpless white woman. Then a feral creature crashes from the sky and the alien invasion begins.
We get to spend time with the gang, getting used to their dialect and sense of camaraderie. They live in a low income section of London and know most of society fears and looks down upon them. At one point Moses wonders if the aliens were sent by the government to kill black boys. Once they realize the creatures are dangerous the boys take it upon themselves to defend the block.
There's a kinetic quality to the action sequences. Set to a hip hop and reggae soundtrack, the film zooms along at a frenetic pace. The script is smart and funny. Thomas Townend's cinematography provides a sense of space and place as we move along with gang on their bicycles and motorbikes. The nighttime lighting also looks amazing. Each character is given a distinct look that adds to the story. Minor characters are given memorable moments.
None of the characters are cardboard cutouts, each is given a memorable moment. Samantha eventually ends up joining the boys in their battle with the the aliens, but she never lets them off the hook for robbing her earlier in the evening. Moses redeems himself through the course of the night, realizing he made a mistake and atones for it. At the same time the film allows the audience to realize the social forces that led to the mugging.
Attack the Block is subversive because it's about empathy, slicing through heavy handed media rhetoric on issues of race, crime, and poverty. A genre film told from the perspective of the underclass against a world that pre-judges them because of their accents and backgrounds. Like John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape From New York groups of disparate characters must work together against a common foe.
So if you've not seen Attack the Block it's well worth your time. At 88 minutes the film flies by.
**** out of 4