The film tells of a group of youths who run into a spot of bother when a poorly planned mugging is interrupted by an unexpected arrival. The problem escalates, and the group soon find themselves fighting for their lives on a night none of them will forget.
For a first-timer, Cornish handles the direction very well; with some interesting shot choices and well-constructed action sequences. Also, even if the symbolism is not particularly subtle, it is well thought through and is at least trying to do something interesting (the tower-block as a spaceship being the highlight).
Unfortunately, the film does suffer on an emotional level due to the fact that it's hard to like some of the main characters. Obviously, some come out better than others, but that opening sequence lingers in the mind and, as a result, I never felt as attached to the characters as, I think, the director wanted me to be.
Adding to the sense of alienation (accidental pun), is the dialogue. The British, street slang used by the main characters may be difficult to understand (especially for any overseas viewers), and I often found it grating and forced. I know that Cornish was going for a realistic feel, and at times it works as intended, but too often if strays into the realm of forced realism, which is off-putting. It also makes it harder to come up with killer dialogue if 90% of your characters are speaking like that; “Right now, I feel like goin’ home, lockin’ my door and playin’ Fifa” is not exactly world class dialogue and neither is it in the slightest bit witty. For a British bloke in his 40s, Cornish does a decent job of replicating the ‘street’ lingo, but some of the youth culture references stick out like a sore thumb, rather than feeling natural.
Underneath its alien-smashing facade, Attack the Block is a not-so-subtle social commentary; with the primary point being that society unfairly stereotypes youths (like those seen in the film) as thugs and bullies. I am fine with Cornish taking the opportunity to say these things, but it's often forced down your throat and, in the end, I don't think it's entirely successful.
However, Cornish does pull off some truly memorable moments; the silhouette of Moses in the doorway is straight out of a grindhouse martial arts movie, and the following chase sequence is genuinely thrilling.
So, while Attack the Block is far from perfect, it's a blast to watch and I hope that Joe Cornish is given a second chance to show what he can really do. It's just a shame the film is nowhere near scary or funny enough.