Interventions into the important political debates of our time sometimes come in unlikely forms. Joe Cornish, who leant his Christian name to Adam and Joe, so their double act wouldnt simply be called Adam, has used the medium of film and more specifically, a hybrid of the gang movie and monster flick, to comment on the higher education debate in the UK. The potential trebling of university tuition fees by the coalition government in addition to the progressive marketisation of what was once a state funded system offering free University education to all based on ability alone, has reopened the question of what a degree is now worth. Its a middle class preoccupation for some, an egalitarian standard bearer for others; can the value of a degree be quantified in terms of mere economic value, or is knowledge intrinsically valuable, and therefore something to be cherished and paid for by the tax payer, though its net contribution to the real economy may be negligible? I know what youre thinking; who gives a shit, is Attack the Block, funny, scary and sometimes both? Thats what youre wondering. But this is a movie that, though mining an attitude and an edge from the South London gang culture that it explores with a fat wedge of liberal understanding, nevertheless relies on a middle class zoology student to provide the key insight that might save the day, after all you can set your alien invasion movie in a Brixton ghetto but unless someones packing scientific insight, theres little hope for the human race. To think, the teaching grant has been cut by 80% and many biology departments around the country may be forced to close in the years to come. What if you, a refugee from a low income home with dreams of turning your love of animals into knowledge, were thinking of starting a course next September but your first choice University closed due to a funding shortfall, due to increased competition from high fees, and those that remained were out of your reach because you didnt dare get yourself into so much debt, so young? What if later, when visiting your friend on a Brixton estate to score some weed, a blind, fluorescent toothed alien showed up, the bastard child of a dog and a grizzly bear, and it was your education we were relying upon to save the day? Well, I suppose wed just have to have our throats ripped out, wouldnt we? Feel better about your taxes not funding universities now, do you? Well, DO YOU? Attack the Block is an affectionate addition to the monster movie catalogue but anyone expecting Cornish, with his comedy pedigree, to have crafted a parody should know that this is a quirky, but brutal sci-fi shocker thats as violent and tense as the best of the genre demands. Cornish takes a literate approach, tempering the shocks, delivered with ear bleeding ferocity, with an intelligence that transcends the b-movie tropes hes clearly so fond of. Previous humanity under siege sagas are remembered, not least Wyndham House within the block, in reference to Day of the Triffids author John Wyndham, and characters that might have been throwaways in less sympathetic hands are humanised in fine Daily Mail baiting fashion; the gang that could easily be written off as muggers and thugs, realised as frightened kids, harangued by police and undervalued by their parent culture. Beyond the genuine thrills Cornishs invaders are truly terrifying; it was these moments of sincere humanity that I found to be the movies strongest suit. The revelation that Moses, the seemingly fearless leader of the pack, sleeps with a Spider-Man duvet cover is a nice little aside, a reminder that the folk devils that patrol Cornishs own neighbourhood in Brixton, South East London, are kids not bogeymen. In fact its this enjoyable conceit, the monsters of the popular imagination called upon to save us from imaginary monsters, that make Attack the Block a softly satirical addition to the sci-fi horror canon. The best science fiction always manages to see the real world with new eyes and Cornishs film deserves to be held up as a fine example of the genre doing just that. Although Jody Whittaker and Nick Frost, in supporting roles, are good fun, the stars of the show are Cornishs cast of debut players, particularly John Boyega as Moses, who manages to be both heroic and venerable in a role that could have easily slipped into urban cliché. To get good performances out of a cast is a task at any time, but Cornishs assured direction makes this cabal of kids look like theyve been doing it for years, and they more than rise to the challenge of giving natural turns while delivering on the screenplays numerous comic asides. Smart, tongue in cheek and with bowel emptying moments aplenty, Attack the Block is a distinctly London take on the monster invader movie. You dont need a degree to enjoy it but it cant hurt, provided you can afford it. Attack the Block is released in the U.K. from tomorrow.
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