A long time ago, in a south London block not so far from here, a pre-Star Wars John Boyega made his debut: Years before teaming up with Daisy Ridley to defend the galaxy in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Boyega teamed up with Jodie Whittaker to defend Wyndham Tower Block from an alien invasion in 2011’s Attack the Block.
The two meet for the first time when Boyega’s character, Moses, backed by his gang of friends, mugs Sam (Whittaker) and then breaks into her home. Moses is a typical London youth from a council estate, while Sam is a nurse who is tired of being made to feel afraid in her own neighbourhood. From the very beginning, the film reinforces accepted stereotypes, but does so self-consciously, creating characters who are typical of their surroundings but also realistic individuals. As the film progresses, and Moses and Sam are forced to fight together, they begin to realise that there is more to one another than they first anticipated. Beneath Moses’ cap and behind his aggressive attitude is a young boy fiercely protective of his block, and Sam realises that although the boys’ morals may be questionable, they are not non-existent.
Questionable morals make Moses and his friends the perfect anti-heroes as well as what make them so relatable—their reactions to an alien invasion are believable. Filled with pop culture references to everything from Gremlins and Gollum to Dobby and Pokémon, the film forces the audience to acknowledge how unprepared they would be if a real alien invasion occurred and just how funny the consequences would be. The films reliance on south London stereotypes and action film tropes should make it predictable and provoke eye-rolling, but instead the combination of the two makes it impossible to keep from laughing, not at the characters but with them. The gangs’ refusal to call the police despite the mounting death toll, a rapping drug lord called Hi-Hatz, and the inability to warn anyone about the ensuing alien invasion because everybody’s phones are out of credit, make the film ridiculous and hilarious.
Despite being relatively young compared to your average cult film, and doing better than most cult films do on release, Attack the Block has already attracted the beginnings of a cult following. Fans in particular celebrate some of the more socially conscious moments, particularly Moses’s suggestion that the government bred the aliens to kill black youths. More serious moments like these do crop up in between the humour and they give the film a more substantial platform on which to build its own popularity. And while the film is funny, the stakes are real, and not everybody survives—so the audience are properly invested in, and uncertain of, the outcome.
If Moses is trying to say anything, it is that no one messes with his block, not even aliens, and although he is not particularly likeable in the beginning of the film, by the end there is no one you would rather have on your alien invasion survival team. If you like Shawn of the Dead and the like, then this is the film for you, and if you are a Star Wars fan, Attack the Block offers a side of Boyega that couldn’t be more different from Finn but is just as entertaining.