Attack the Block (UK, 2011)

We're better than Hollywood

After two weeks on release in the UK Attack the Block was just shy of £2m at the box office; not bad for a British film but this terrific, brainy exploitation movie should be mopping up the dosh. Its marketing profile has been reasonable but it seems that the buzz for movies amongst multiplex audiences can’t get beyond the summer blockbusters. So it’s Pirates 4 and Hangover2 that people hanker, and hunger, for not home produced, crowd pleasing movies. Hollywood’s hegemony is absolutely secure.Which is a pity as this is a superbly made film featuring aliens invading Brixton. Everything about the film is familiar: it’s a Roger Corman creature-feature mixed with the Children’s Film Foundation films of the ’70s; it’s John Carpenter and Walter Hill . . .  and it’s British. If the film had been set in the ‘hood’, rather than the ‘block’, and the trailer featured the gravelly-stupid American voice then I suspect it would have done much better at the box office.

If the film sounds derivative, the experience is actually refreshing. Writer-director Joe Cornish isn’t afraid to take risks; the film starts with nice white girl (Jodie Whitaker) getting mugged by nasty black boy (Moses played by John Boyega). Racially risky, however the film’s intelligence deals with the trope by fleshing out the lead character so we know him as an individual and not a racist trope. Cornish, a first time director and known as the Joe part of ‘Adam and Joe’, shoots the estate with great skill and uses the ensemble cast with convincing authenticity.

If you only go and see one move this summer, you must see Attack the Block.


  1. Roy Stafford

    I still haven’t seen this and I’ll probably have to wait for the DVD release but I’m following discussions on the film. There is some interesting comment on the film’s performance in London in Sight and Sound (July). Charles Gant traces the marketing of the film and sees its performance as successful in reaching £1.9 million after just 12 days (now £2.4 million after 24 days). He tells us that the distributors were wary of ‘ghettoising’ the film but he himself thinks that the ‘urban audience’ is essential. Gant compares its performance to Anuvahood (directed by Adam Deacon, an actor in the earlier two ‘hood films). Anuvahood made £2.11 million mainly from London and peaking in multiplexes in Croydon, Acton and Enfield – essentially suburbia with racially and socially mixed communities both working class and middle class. Attack the Block was less reliant on London numbers and it topped out at the Vue in Islington (which for non-UK residents has become a media cliche for liberal media land since the Brown-Blair days). So, how important is the difference between public school educated (Westminster!) Joe Cornish and ‘streetwise’ Adam Deacon? Or is it just to do with the age of the principal characters (younger in Attack the Block)?
    When the film was first reviewed on Radio 4’s Front Row the (Black) reviewer said that though she thought the film was well-made, she did worry that the stereotyping of Black youth worked against the idea of making them the heroes of the film – i.e. that they were all tooled up to fight aliens. ‘Racially risky’ as you say and that’s what I need to check out. I’m guessing that Attack the Block will be more successful overseas than Anuvahood.


    • Roy Stafford

      I have managed to see the film now. It certainly is effective as a genre film. A woman behind me screamed and nearly leapt out of her seat when the first attack came.

      I hadn’t realised that this has the same production company as Shaun of the Dead etc. I think it does suffer from comparison with Edgar Wright’s films and I didn’t enjoy it as much as them. I think that the opening is a bit iffy and I don’t think that the comedy and horror mix works as well as in the Wright films. I’m intrigued by the frankly weird collection of bulletin board posts on IMDB which suggests a varied set of audience responses. I thought that the lead role was very well played by John Boyega – I hope that we see him again.


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