Maverick British director Ken Russell died in his sleep Sunday at age 84. Russell’s controversial films included the Oliver Reed-Vanessa Redgrave starrer The Devils; Women In Love; and Tommy, the screen version of The Who’s rock opera. In the U.S., he directed the psychedelic Altered States, but his collaboration with equally strong-willed screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky haunted that film, and the failure of his next film, Crimes Of Passion, sent him back to the UK. There, he continued making films, the last of which was The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher.
Russell was a polarizing filmmaker, with critics often split on his films. His movies rarely achieved commercial success thanks to his unique takes on provocative themes that often included sex, drugs and violence. His 1971 film Women In Love, an adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel, was his only work to receive Academy Award consideration: it was nominated for four Oscars in 1971, including for best director, and won Best Actress for Glenda Jackson.
Set in an inner-city, south London housing estate, Attack the Block follows a gang of young hoodies who rob female nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) at knifepoint in the opening scene. As the robbery appears to be taking a distasteful turn, the kids are distracted by an explosion something falls from the sky into a parked car. The nurse takes the opportunity to escape as gang leader Moses (John Boyega) goes to investigate; he is scratched across the face by an unseen creature that makes its escape through a local park. The gang chase the creature and proceed to kick it to death.
Heading home to their housing block to score some weed, they carry the alien carcass in the hope that it will be worth something to barter with… then the big aliens arrive.
Attack the Block is another entry into the tricky horror-comedy genre. It’s been compared to ‘Shaun of the Dead’ (probably because it’s British more than any other reason), which is misleading, it lacks that movies intelligence and humour. That’s not to say that Attack the Block isn’t fun, or smart, it is and along with ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ is one of the better entries into that difficult horror-comedy genre. Sharing more in common with early 80’s creature features like ‘Night of the Creeps’, ‘Monster Squad’ and John Carpenter’s siege classic ‘Assault on Precinct 13’, Attack the Block manages to bring the horror (in PG-13 doses) and add a few moments of laddish humour.
There have been a few people upset by the fact that the heroes are low-life hoodies, and that they don’t really go through much of a character arc and change or show that beneath the tough bravado they are just average kids. If the movie had done that it would have undone all the good work that writer-director Joe Cornish puts into his directorial debut. It’s not really about redemption or change; it’s about defending your turf and standing your ground against the odds. These kids will go back to what they know when the action is over.
The young cast are all quite good, with Moses Boyega a real standout. Granted he is given more to do, his character is more fleshed out and feels more real than the more one dimensional members of his gang. The humour quotient is mainly due to Nick Frost in a supporting role as dopey grug dealer.
The London gangsta dialect becomes a bit tedious and there are moments early on when I just wanted Harry Brown to come along and end it all. Overall it’s a fun movie, a nice distraction from the more formulaic fare out there at the moment.
Quality: 3 out of 5 stars
Any good: 4 out of 5 stars