I DON'T KNOW if it comes from a belated, Tea Party-fueled panic over Mexicans, or a subconscious need to blame a generic outsider for our state of cultural and economic impotence, or if it's just Hollywood burnout, but whatever: We've been bludgeoned with alien invasion flicks this summer, with Battle Los Angeles, Cowboys & Aliens, Super 8, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. To say the most recent alien invasion movie, Attack the Block, is better than all the rest is totally true—but it also isn't saying a whole lot, since other than maybe Super 8, those movies were all pretty crappy. So instead, I'll say this equally true thing: Attack the Block's better than just about anything else so far this year.
Executive produced by Edgar Wright—the guy behind Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Spaced, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World—first-time director Joe Cornish's debut is fantastically clever and relentlessly funny. Like all great monster movies, it's got bit of social commentary slyly poking its head out from the shadows; if you can see past the mangy, jet-black fur and phosphorescent fangs of Block's aliens, you'll find a fair amount to think about. But—again, like all great monster movies—if you'd rather just roll with it, and simply have a better time in a theater than you've had in entirely too long? That works too.
Things start with a bang, or a crash, or a meteor: Walking home, London nurse Sam (Jodie Whittaker) gets mugged by a gang of neighborhood toughs, led by the world's most badass/terrifying 15-year-old, Moses (excellent newcomer John Boyega). But seconds after they've stolen Sam's purse, a huge chunk of space rock slams into a nearby car, unleashing a snarling, hairy little shit that promptly runs away, only to be hunted down by the boys. "Maybe there was a party at a zoo and a monkey fucked a fish?" their friendly neighborhood drug dealer (Nick Frost) says as he examines the corpse, which Moses has dragged into their massive housing project. And before you can say Aliens, a swarm of bigger, hairier, and far more vicious creatures are prowling the building's florescent-lit hallways and climbing its concrete walls; while anybody else would whimper until the cops showed up, Moses and his pals go on the hunt.
A lazy way to characterize Attack the Block would be as a leaner, tougher, and significantly bloodier Super 8, but while J.J. Abrams' flick took place in nostalgic, rose-tinted Spielbergia, Cornish's extraterrestrial adventure (comedy? Drama? Horror? All of the above?) occurs in land first explored in The Wild Ones and Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders and The Warriors, not to mention some vintage John Carpenter. Familiar in all the right ways—and phenomenally inventive and fresh in all the others—this thing's an absolute blast from start to end, but with an understated grace and heart that also makes it unexpectedly emotional, and, in light of London's recent riots, surprisingly relevant.
So, yeah, sure: Here's one more alien invasion movie. But this is how you do it.