It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of a well-received festival film: you're there at the world premiere screening, the filmmakers are sitting a few rows behind you, there's a sincere vibe of good will and excitement as the movie unspools ... and if everyone around you goes nuts for a flick, it's easy to join the crowd and perhaps over-praise a goofy little genre flick.
None of the preceding paragraph refers to Joe Cornish's Attack the Block, which went over like free hotcakes on two consecutive nights at this year's SXSW Film Festival. As an attendee of the second screening, I walked into Attack the Block with a lot of enthusiastic praise bouncing through my brain. Friends and colleagues had described the energetic action / sci-fi / horror combination with phrases like "drop-dead awesome," "non-stop ass-kick-tastic," and "it's Critters meets The Warriors and The Goonies ... and The Sandlot. Oh, and Assault on Precinct 13." (I'd also toss Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs into the equation.)
The plot is an admirably simple thing: a group of youthful inner-city "thugs" are the only effective line of defense when their beloved "block" is pelted by an invasion of creepy, ravenous alien monsters. The slightly criminal but appreciably conflicted Moses is the leader of the gang, and he rallies his colorful charges into rescuing a few locals, locating a few (temporary) hiding spots, and kicking the slimy snot out of the pitch-black alien invaders.
But what may sound like a basic, generic, derivative piece of genre puree is actually one of the slickest, quickest and slyly satisfying amalgams in quite some time! The cast (which is comprised almost exclusively of "first-time unknowns") is aces across the board. The eclectic cadre of troublemakers are slightly obnoxious, gradually heroic, and surprisingly likeable when all is said and done. A nice touch arrives in the form of lovable character actor Nick Frost, who pops up as a perpetually-stoned ally, but Frost underplays at every turn, never gets too goofy, and allows his young co-stars to steal the spotlight. (It should come as no surprise that the genre-lovin' Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, acts as an executive producer on Cornish's consistently cool movie.)
Packed with cliches that arrive with just enough polish, populated by quick-witted and amusing characters who lampoon the stock genre conventions (even while being chased by them!) with impressive consistency, bolstered by some simple but very cool special effects and an infectious musical score, Attack the Block is one of those genre flicks that is plainly inspired by a dozen other flicks, but mashes everything into a whole that ends up strangely ... unique.
In other words, it's a throwback monster movie made by people who clearly adore the films they're referencing. Combine that with some truly astute filmmaking and a playful tone that never goes too light or too dark, and you're looking at a festival circuit winner that's guaranteed to earn a lot of fans somewhere down the road.