Joe Cornish

In Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, “Attack the Block,” a band of teenage thugs defend their home from invading aliens. (Photo courtesy of Sony Screen Gems)

Judging from the audience’s reaction to the world premiere of “Attack the Block” at this year’s South By Southwest Festival, the film is on track to become an instant classic. It even won the Audience Award, and it was arguably the biggest film of the festival. Joe Cornish made his directorial debut with the film, and John Boyega, the film’s main star, also makes his acting debut.

The Daily Texan spoke with Cornish and Boyega during the pre-release publicity tour of “Attack the Block” which opens in Austin on Friday.

Daily Texan: Why did you choose South By Southwest to premiere the film?
Joe Cornish: We thought it was the right environment to release it. It’s a great festival with an amazing history. And we were so excited when they accepted it. It was the first sign people might like the film. It was frightening the first time we showed it to an audience. They’re a smart crowd here and opinionated. I think we were just lucky. The timing was right, and the film was finished just in time for the festival. I’d never been before, but I had always followed it and wished I could be there so it was a dream come true to be here. Then to get the response we did was incredible.

DT: How did you, John, get cast in the film?
John Boyega: I got a call from my agent, told me there was a film about alien invasions in South London. I went out for the audition, which was very, very long. I just got callback after callback, which is very sad. It was like torture. And then I got the phone call that I got the part. It’s funny, because the audition process felt as if we were going into the rehearsal process. We spoke about the roles as if we already got them. Joe’s like, “I want you to play Moses like...” and I’m thinking, “Have I got the part then?”
JC: We pretty much realized he was Moses the second he walked in the room. It was mostly a process of finding the kids around him, but we didn’t tell him that. We put him through the mill.

DT: What was filming like?
JB: The cold got me. It was hard to concentrate in those first scenes, hard to get comfortable.
JC: We shot the movie almost chronologically, so the first thing we shot was the mugging, which was quite cool. John was masked. Then we all evolved and got to know each other and evolved our style as well.
JB: It was so weird though, just being on a set. Looking around, there’s a camera and a big light with a crane, and Joe with his headset and his weird jacket giving orders.
JC: It was a cool jacket.

DT: Did you do any of your own stunt work?
JB: I didn’t do it all. What I did do was sometimes very scary, sometimes cool. Being blown off a balcony was kind of scary. They didn’t tell me it was going to be that bad! It was fun though.

DT: Any chance of a sequel?
JC: Well, I want John to play the lead in “Transformers 4.” (laughs) I would love to, and we’re full of ideas for it. But we have to wait until the Benjamin Button technology gets good enough to age down 11 actors.

DT: What’s your favorite audience reaction moment in the film?
JC: I have a weird thing where I don’t actually like to be in the room when the film screens, because I think I might curse it. I secretly think they’re swapping it out for a different film. If I’m in the room when it shows, I’ll see, “Oh, they’re not showing ‘Attack the Block,’ they’re showing ‘Evil Dead II,’ and that’s why everyone’s so excited.”

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Writer, actor talk of first-time experience

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