'Attack the Block' rises above other alien movies

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At the world premiere of “Attack the Block” during South By Southwest, producer (and “Shaun of the Dead” director) Edgar Wright took the stage and described the film as “Super 8 Mile.” While that’s a little broad, it’s more or less accurate. Although “Attack the Block” is better than either of those films, it blends the adventurous teens-versus-aliens feel of “Super 8” with the rough edges and hard living of “8 Mile” to create what will almost certainly be a cult classic.

Moses (John Boyega) and his band of teenage thugs start the film off as villains, mugging the innocent Sam (Jodie Whittaker). However, once ferocious aliens begin attacking the area, Moses and his crew take up arms to defend their turf.

“Attack the Block” moves at a blistering pace, with Moses killing his first alien in the first 10 minutes. And the film doesn’t slow down for a second thereafter. Writer and director Joe Cornish, making his debut here, stuffs the film with immensely satisfying, soon-to-be-iconic moments and juggles several major story threads with ease. Also essential to the film is Steven Price’s throbbing, bass-heavy score, which evokes ’80s John Carpenter and gives some of the film’s climactic sequences an immediate, nail-biting intensity.

Cornish packs the film with unknowns, save for “Shaun of the Dead” star Nick Frost, whose shaggy-haired pot dealer character lands the film’s biggest laughs. While the cast is mostly beyond reproach, Boyega completely steals the show. His Moses starts the film as a terrifying villain and ends it as a hero, and he sells every moment of his strong and silent character’s transformation.

Perhaps the film’s most memorable element will be its creature design. Without giving too much away, the aliens in “Attack the Block’s” are unlike any you’ve ever seen before, creative in their simplicity and a far cry from the generic extraterrestrials that have populated this summer’s other alien films. Even better, Cornish never runs out of ways to make them threatening or to create methods of killing them.

There’s no doubt “Attack the Block” was the biggest film at SXSW this year. Aside from winning the Audience Award, every screening was packed and every festival-goer was buzzing about it. If there’s any justice in the world, this Friday’s release of “Attack the Block” will be just as widely hyped. It’s a creative, exciting film, a sign of great things to come from Joe Cornish, and something that really needs to be seen on a big screen with a rowdy crowd. In a summer overflowing with alien movies, “Attack the Block” easily emerges the champion.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Debut director's flick shines among summer's alien films