Rooted in the classic eighties family-friendly shockers where kids and teens band together to fight weird aliens or creatures without the aid of adults, Joe Cornish’s reworking of the formula has a teen gang becoming the heroes of humanity when they manage to stop black hairy monsters with super-human strength and neon-green fangs from massacring everything in their paths.
While the premise is straightforward – a weird alien invasion in the suburbs – Cornish’s setting isn’t, and neither is the methods of introducing the hero & heroine: nursing student Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is robbed by punk kids on the way home, and further earns the ire of the gang (all of whom live in the same low-rent apartment block) when the leader Moses (John Boyega) is arrested and tossed into a police wagon. Of course, it’s during that small moment of personal satisfaction that the creatures attack, eviscerate the cops, and cause both victim and aggressor to band together when their entire neighborhood’s overrun by the apish creatures who seem to want nothing more to do than tear people to bits.
Woven into the character fabric is a loutish drug lord, and an easygoing drug dealer (Shaun of the Dead’s Nick Frost) whose grow-op becomes the epicenter of the penultimate battle between humans and monsters. Among the kids who make up Moses’ little gang are Pest, Hi-Hatz, Mayhem, and Probs – each character perfectly cast with young actors unique in dialogue delivery, accent, size, and facial features; they’re essentially realistic kids with attitude and humour that ensures they remain memorable when Cornish has his monsters tear a few to pieces onscreen – perhaps the film’s biggest diversion from the PG-rated eighties fodder. Kids and adults die, and it’s fast & nasty – quite a contrarian element considering the BBFC’s once-vicious anti-violence stance, which mandated a film be shorn of its edginess to protect the accidental viewing by kiddies during the infamous Video Nasty era.
Cornish’s storytelling style is fast and no-nonsense (hence the film’s short running time), and Attack features some of the finest hand-held camerawork and editing in recent years. Characters run, dash, leap, and land with great energy, and the film’s camera operator captures every movement without error. There isn’t an ill-framed shot in the film, and the action scenes are brilliantly assembled, conveying dynamic momentum without flashiness and discontinuity. (As a teaching tool on how to cut action, Attack is among the best.)
The reason for the creature’s sudden landing – as fiery meteors from the sky – and intuitive convergence on the apartment block is clean and simple, but it’s the MacGuffin hook around which Cornish builds up his roster of unlikely heroes and heroines, using smart dialogue and humour laced with stark urban attitude.
Cornish’s mini-homage (with serious nods to Walter Hill’s own work, particularly his nineties mini-masterpiece Trespass) is nicely housed in an extras-heavy Blu-ray, including three audio commentary tracks and standard making-of featurettes (of which the longest runs just over an hour).
Perhaps over-previewed prior to its North American general release – Sony offered 3-4 rounds of pre-release screenings a month prior to its Canadian release date – Attack should find its core audience on home video, who’ll savour Cornish’s unusual re-setting of genre conventions in a fairly bleak urban wasteland.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan