Jun 24, 2016

Alternative to What: "Attack the Block" (2011)

Scene from Attack the Block
Welcome to Alternative to What: a weekly column that tries to find a great alternative to driving to the multiplexes. Based on releases of that week, the selections will either be thematically related or feature recurring cast and crew. The goal is to help you better understand the diversity of cinema and hopefully find you some favorites while saving a few bucks. At worse, this column will save you money. Expect each installment to come out on Fridays, unless specified. 

Attack the Block (2011)
- Alternative To -
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

In pop culture, there are few things that have intrigued sci-fi movies quite like alien invasion. And why wouldn’t it? The idea of foreign beings coming to Earth and changing the very structure of the planet is a concept that feels all too real. With the release of this weekend’s Independence Day: Resurgence, it marks the sequel to the iconic 90’s film that blew up The White House and created one of the most often misrepresented Will Smith quotes. While he’s not along for the ride, most of the main cast returns. As the title would suggest, they are definitely not prepared for what lays in store.
It is why this week I have chosen to look at an alien invasion movie that takes place in a more recent time and effects the community at large. For a different look, I am choosing director Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block, which saw a gang of aliens attack a lower class apartment complex that included a variety of colorful characters whose lingo probably needs some massive research. Still, what the film likes in coherent English, it often makes up for in sheer energy and a creative approach to keeping aliens from attacking their home front. Speaking as it is mostly done cleverly by a gang of ruthless children, it creates a ride unlike any other from the past five years.
A large part of why the movie works is because there isn’t a reliance on any familiar rules that have come to define alien culture. The monsters don’t even look familiar. What is there is a surreal black creature with glowing eyes made possible by rotoscoping. Even the reactions from the main cast has plenty of comical naivety and ingeniously intertwines the story while creating a rich tapestry of surrealism. The film was conceptualized after Cornish was mugged by a gang, and what’s more interesting is that he doesn’t just use his abusers as fodder for cheap humor, for deep and rich subtext about economic backgrounds.
Another advantage over many other alien invasion movies that I could’ve recommended is that it is relatively short. It wastes no time in getting to the point, and the action comes fast. It is occasionally gritty and violent in ways that only add to the terror. Still, it’s the main cast whose story of survival is itself a fascinating journey, and one whose simplicity rewards creative turnarounds. It may not be the most successful or familiar alien movie, but it may be one of the few to take the concept to new and interesting places.
It may be far from tonally similar to Independence Day: Resurgence, even if both seem reliant on humor to undermine chaos. Still, it is evidence that even if it becomes harder to reinvent the alien invasion movie, it still is a possible concept, and one that could be done with creativity. If nothing else, it is an exciting jolt of genre filmmaking from the past five years, and puts Cornish in the unfortunate corner of needing to release his second movie. One can only hope and assume that it isn’t nearly as problematic as the Independence Day sequel has been suggested of being. Still, it can’t be all that bad. After all, John Boyega (Attack the Block’s main character) did go on to have a prominent role in Star Wars.

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