Monday, September 12, 2011

Attack the Block: my vote for finest film of the year

These are such busy times -- non-stop, hectic -- but I was able to get out and see a very fine movie called "Attack the Block." Now, don't be turned off by the "aliens attack" set-up. The movie avoids that cliched, open world scenario in which all-powerful creatures vaporize Paris, cause tidal waves, bite the head off the Statue of Liberty and so forth.

For one thing, the alien creatures are earthy and highly kill-able mammal types -- hairy beasts that look like hedgehog wolf-bears, with some gorilla thrown into the genetic mix. The beasts don't have any death rays, just claws and fearsome teeth, which crackle and buzz and emit a strange blue glow like fluorescent track lighting.

For another, the alien invasion focuses on a single building in a dangerous London neighborhood and surrounding alleyways, trash-strewn fields, rubbish bins, etc. The aliens' combatants are mostly a group of young people who are well on their way to becoming thugs. The housing project houses three generations of full-blown and potential criminals: two older crime bosses, their adolescent henchmen, and, coming up just behind them, two little tyros who idolize the henchmen and are always trying to show them up. Stand this gang up against a group of alien creatures and you've got a truly novel fight to the death scenario.

I can tell that the makers of this movie put a great deal of thought into all this -- the hierarchy of the gang, and even the way the creatures interact with one another and what drives them to attack (which I won't reveal here).

The high-rise apartment complex is put to excellent use. I have a feeling that location scouts explored every nook of a real high-rise, considering every way that the garage underneath the complex, the tight and endless hallways, two creaking elevators, stairwells and skyways with perilous drops separating them, can be mined for suspense and shocks. They also though long and hard about all the things that scare us, and transported these old phobias from a 'scary woods' scenario to a 'scary city' scenario --the feeling of entrapment, disorientation, feeling pursued without knowing where you are, having to make a break from a safe zone while having no idea if something terrible is waiting just outside the door or the garbage bin.

All in all it was a wickedly clever film. Yes, it's funny, but it will also make you jump, shake, and spill your popcorn all over the place.

See it now, preferably in a nice, claustrophobic theater. I would recommend Haight-Ashbury's Red Vic, but someone told me that it just shut down for good. If true, this is very sad news.

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