Attack the Block is one of the best alien invasion films ever made. Yes, that’s a bold statement. Yes, I’ve taken my meds. One might suspect a statement that bold needs to be followed up with some proof. I present to you the following image:
That’s John Boyega standing in a room full of weed, samurai sword in one hand, bottle rocket in the other, and a dead alien strapped to his back.
That should be all you need to know to stop what you’re doing and watch this amazing film right now. Cheers. Enjoy the rest of your day.
For those of you still unconvinced, let me tell you why this little film about a gang of South London teens, fighting off an impending alien invasion, delivers big. First of all, the aforementioned John Boyega.
In his first feature film, a nineteen-year-old Boyega plays fifteen-year-old Moses. Does he pull off playing fifteen? Not really, but someone says, “You look older” at one point, so everything’s fine.
Boyega’s acting is top notch and you believe it when he bravely steps up into various dangerous situations. You’ll find out later he lives with his uncle who’s mostly absent from his life so Moses has had to become a “man” on his own. He takes this role seriously, as protector for his friends. A manly man. Perhaps too much so for his own good.
Moses and his mostly unintelligible, slang-slinging friends start the movie by mugging a young woman as she walks home from a long shift as a nurse. That young woman, Sam, is played by The Doctor themself, Jodie Whittaker. Anyone who caught Broadchurch is surely already a fan of Whittaker. Which means you were probably in the camp of people excited to hear the announcement about her becoming the Doctor and not one of…them. In this film, Whittaker’s Sam is foul-mouthed and unapologetic.
She’s great. At any rate, Moses and his boys steal Sam’s purse and send her on her way. After Sam bails, a huge meteor plummets to Earth and destroys a Volvo just inches from the kids’ faces. What was in the meteor?
That’s right…already. Point number next, this movie doesn’t fuck around. It doesn’t have time to. At just eighty-eight minutes (another tick in the pro column) the movie can’t waste even one second faffing about, as the British might say. Plus, there’s nothing more frustrating than watching an alien invasion movie where the characters have to convince other people that an alien invasion is real. You get to skip over all that. Look, I have the proof, right here.
So, in order to pack all that story into such a short timeframe, they have to come strong out of the gate. The very first shot:
A small shooting star. It’s beautiful at first but the ominous score playing underneath causes you to pause and think. Maybe it doesn’t bring beauty with it after all…
It doesn’t. It brings aliens.
An alien lands, attacks Moses, and runs off. The kids chase it down and kick it to death. They hoist its dripping, putrid carcass from the end of a stick, victorious in battle.
This is all before we even get to the eight-minute mark. We’ve established the main characters and the dynamic between them, an alien has landed and been killed, and there are more on the way.
Written and directed by Joe Cornish, this is an impressive first feature for him as well, having come up as one part of the comedy duo Adam and Joe. He would go on to receive writing credits on The Adventures of Tintin and Ant-Man. Here, Cornish handles suspense and action with an equally deft hand.
After showing off to some girls, the gang takes the carcass to Ron’s Weed Room, because it’s like “Fort fucking Knox in there.” Ron, played by the incomparable Nick Frost, is sort of your typical stoner comedy relief, but since it’s Nick Frost, we’ll allow it.
From their position in the penthouse suite, the gang sees the other meteor/alien pods slam into the Earth. Determined to keep their block safe, they gather whatever weapons they can sneak past their parents and head back out into the night, ready to fight the alien scourge.
Now, it should be said, this is a movie about teens and young kids fighting aliens. There aren’t any officials running around mucking things up. There’s no group of military hard-ons wanting to use force while a gaggle of hypothesizing scientists try and convince them to communicate first. There’s none of that stuff to get in the way of pure teenage angst beating alien ass.
Here, we meet the next reason why this movie is amazing, Probs and Mayhem.
Two adorable young kids from the block who desperately want to be part of the older, cool kids in Moses’s crew. But they’re not given the time of day. They’re even made fun of for wanting to be called Probs and Mayhem instead of their given names, Reginald and Gavin. Despite that, the boys want to help, they even got “tools”… a cap gun and a super soaker. Despite the claim it’s not water in the super soaker, the boys are quickly dismissed and told to stay home and lock their doors.
We’ll see these two again because everything in this movie is connected. For example, a trust fund hipster named Brewis, who’s come to buy weed from Ron’s Weed Room, discovers upon leaving that his father’s Volvo was the one destroyed by the first meteor/alien that landed. With no ride, he goes back up to Ron’s Weed Room to hang out. That and he’s incredibly stoned so he probably shouldn’t drive.
Don’t do drugs, kids, even during an alien invasion.
The aliens all seem singularly focused on Moses, always finding him no matter where he goes. It’s a question that gets brought up several times. “How did they find us?”
At one point, a way-too-high Brewis zones out while watching a nature documentary about moths.
Seems an odd thing to throw into the middle of an alien invasion film…Oh well! I’m sure it’s nothing.
From here, the movie goes pretty much balls out. The kids discover the alien in the park isn’t like the one they killed before. It’s not a hairless “orangutan type thing.” These new aliens are, per one of the gang who goes by Pest, “Big alien, gorilla, wolf motherfuckers” with glowing teeth.
Now, I know what you’re thinking…sure, these aliens are scary-looking. But the cast is all made up of kids…thirteen-, fourteen-, fifteen-year-olds. Surely there’s no real danger with all that plot armor. Well, get ready for this…
Kids die. Gruesomely sometimes. The movie doesn’t hold back on the violence. There’s even a moment where an older douchebag drug dealer, who’s been tracking down the kids because they crashed into his car, is cornered by several of the aliens and they eat his face off. So, yeah, the stakes are high.
At this point, a member of the gang, Biggz, has been trapped in a dumpster by one of the aforementioned big, alien, gorilla, wolf motherfuckers and can’t get out. And who should come to his rescue, but–
Probs and muthafuckin’ Mayhem! First, they have to psych themselves up.
Utterly adorable. Then, Probs soaks that motherfucker good. But what exactly does he have in that super soaker squirt gun?
Mayhem lights a firework (here, called bangers) and tosses it, setting the alien ablaze in a glorious ball of bright orange flame. It’s here that they proudly earn their badass monikers, Probs and Mayhem.
Say their names.
Having taken up residence in Ron’s Weed Room, the remnants of the gang discover that Moses’s jacket is covered by something that can only be seen under the black light. That’s when everything clicks…
The stoner, Brewis, shares his documentary moth knowledge about pheromones. He posits the first alien to arrive was female, probably adrift on “solar winds” and whatnot. She lands and leaves a pheromone trail for the males to follow. The males come next, find her by smelling her out (the aliens are blind, bee-tee-dubs) to mate and colonize and so on and so forth. This is why the aliens were not only singularly focused on Moses, but also why all the action was contained to one city block.
Budgetarily, that’s a smart way to write a script. If there’s a reason why everything has to take place in one area, it helps keep budgets down and allows you to do more with less. Another reason to love this movie, just purely on a writing level.
Now, we’re at the point in the story where it’s time for a Hail Mary. Dozens of big, alien, gorilla, wolf motherfuckers are climbing the walls, closing in on Moses and the crew. This brings us back around to–
John Boyega standing in a room full of weed, samurai sword in one hand, bottle rocket in the other, and a dead alien strapped to his back.
The plan is for Sam to sneak past the blind aliens, since she doesn’t have glowing pheromones on her, and set a trap in Moses’s apartment. She makes her way down, sets all the gas from the stove going full blast, and gets to safety. Now, it’s all up to Moses.
Moses draws all the aliens into his own apartment, throws the now-molding female carcass into the gas-filled kitchen. The males descend on the carcass allowing Moses to light a banger and send the aliens to a fiery, explosive death.
Where Moses then hangs off the building, Die Hard–style, by grabbing onto a Union Jack flag after being blown out of the building. And we all swell with pride as he climbs safely back into the burned-out apartment.
Despite Sam telling the police that the gang saved her life, Moses and Pest are being arrested for the general mayhem they perpetrated that night. As they’re being tossed into the back of the van, the crowd begins chants of “Moses! Moses! Moses!” It’s here, we see, for the first time, that Moses has accomplished something good. And for the first time, we get to see those pearly whites.
Almost. But he does smile and that’s all the character arc he needs. He spent the whole movie trying to be “the man,” the protector. And he succeeded. He saved the block.
So, if a badass, amateur-ninja, pre-Stormtrooper John Boyega paired with a foul-mouthed, knife-wielding, “I’m the Doctor, bitch” Jodie Whittaker, fighting off big, blind, alien, gorilla, bear creature, wolf motherfuckers while children curse and act like gangsters, is something you may be interested in, this is the movie for you.
(For those curious, the script for the movie can be found here. It’s a cool read if you’re interested in screenwriting or just how a movie goes from script to screen.)