Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Block Party

As fun horror movies go, you could do worse than Attack the Block (2011, directed by Joe Cornish), in which a gang of teenagers defend their apartment block from invading monsters from outer space. It's a comedy, but one that knows the value of throwing its characters into the meat grinder. It's surprisingly socially aware. And it has good monsters. This last part is what sold it to the group with whom I watched it, because all of us are kind of down on the state of contemporary monsters. The monsters are surprisingly simple, too: black fur outlines with glowing teeth. It's like they suck up the light in a room until they smile at you, and then they're genuinely scary.

At its most basic, this is a movie in which a group of characters run from monsters for its entire running time. It's a simple framework, but it provides the opportunity for the characters to take control of the movie rather than the intricacies of its plot. The movie doesn't really explain its monsters, per se, and there's no reason it should. These characters--poor people, the lot of them--do not have an "in" with the corridors of power. That doesn't keep them from speculating about the monsters, though. One character suggests that they're a plot by the white man to wipe out poor black people, and even though it's played as a joke, it bites. There's an element of tribalism at work in this film, too, never more prominent than when our young hoodlums tell Sam the Nurse that they would never have mugged her if they had known that she was poor or that she lived in their apartment block. The notion that "others" are fair game is an unspoken and depressing theme throughout the movie. In general, though, the kids behave better than you would expect of a gang of young hooligans.

Nick Frost is the "name" actor in the cast, but Frost's slacker drug dealer is a minor character. (The movie gives a production credit to Frost's buddy, Edgar Wright and the movie has some of Wright's antic glee). The real stars of the movie are Jodie Whitaker as Sam the Nurse and John Boyega as Moses, the leader of our merry band of punks. Boyega in particular exudes the charisma of a bona fide movie star later in the movie, and the filmmakers oblige him by providing him with a heroes journey. The other kids are each drawn with deft strokes by the young actors who play them. Particular favorites are Alex Esmail as Pest and Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao, the two kids who play Probs and Mayhem, a couple of neighbor kids who fight the aliens with super-soakers full of gasoline.

For all its action--and there's a lot of it--there's a real sense of the social milieu of poor London in this movie, and it encompasses economic disparity, racial tensions, and the role of women. It's surprisingly sly when it sends up the false machismo of our young heroes by contrasting it with the girls in their neighborhood who see through it all. It subtly contrasts this with the aliens' motivations--they're tracking the scent of a female of their species--and how it results in mayhem. It's a nice counterpoint. In any event, I doubt this film could have been made in Hollywood, because the notion of a (mostly) black street gang as heroes of a movie would never fly in a town that loves to whitewash everything.

As an action/horror/sci-fi film, this strikes the right balance of forward motion. It's not frantic, rushing from plot point to plot point. It has room to let the characters breath. But it's not slow, either, and the various alien attacks are staged with a fine feel for geography. This isn't a run and gun movie and it doesn't shake the camera much, so you can actually see what's going on. It still gets the heart pumping, which is a fine rebuke to the notion that you need to go all shaky-cam to involve the audience more intensely. Attack the Block is elegantly clean as far as cinematic techniques go, which makes the whole thing highly watchable. It's a terrific Halloween film, actually, because it provides monsters and mayhem, but maintains a genuine sense of fun throughout.

Current tally: 31 films

First time viewings: 28

Around the web, most people are still finishing up their Halloween festivities

Over at Horror 101, Dr. AC has posted his final results. His charity is going to be very happy. If you've got a mind to donate, pay him a visit and open your checkbook. He has also posted his final diary entry, in which he goes out in a blaze of glory.

The Vicar of VHS gave the challenge the old college try. His Halloween film was the venerable Night of the Living Dead.

Bob over at The Eternal Sunshine of the Logical Mind returns with another varied diary entry, featuring a couple of your humble bloginatrix's pets, as well as more from Toronto After Dark.

Jenn over at Cavalcade of Perversion posted another diary for her final week (which I missed last week; I hope she'll forgive me), and bids everyone a happy Halloween.

J. Luis at W-Cinema rounds out his month with the schlock classic, The Manster.

Stacia over at She Blogged by Night celebrates Halloween by participating in an Italian Horror blogathon. She looks at Dario Argento's Masters of Horror episodes.

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