Attack The Block – Deconstructed

Attack The Block

Attack the Block (2011R |

Director:Joe Cornish   Writer:Joe Cornish   Stars:John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail

“Attack the Block”. John Boyega’s first movie. You may know him now as Finn – FN-2187 — in that little indie flick “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. I understand he’ll also be in the sequel, “Star Wars: The Force Goes Back to Bed” (actually, “The Last Jedi”).

This little movie takes place entirely in and around the “block” where Moses (Boyega) and his thuggy friends live. Sam (Jodie Whittaker) also lives in the block and even though she is not a big fan of Moses and his crew, they need to team together to defend the block against attack.

This is a by the numbers sci-fi flick. As I mentioned in Story Structure, the plot points in a genre picture tend to be very obvious. And very, well, structure. The timings tend to be to the minute, and with an 88 minute movie, the first plot point should be near 22 minutes, the midpoint at 44 minutes and the second plot point at 66. Pinch points should be at 33 and 66 minutes.

Now don’t for a second assume that “by the numbers” implies a boring movie. They’re just waypoints on the journey from the beginning to the end. The boringness of a movie is measured on the character building, the world building and how well a writer transitions the story through those plot points.

It’s unavoidable that this deconstruction is rife with spoilers. The movie’s six years old, though, so if you haven’t see it yet, it’s on you.

Act One

Act One is scene-setting and character introductions. Sets the status quo for the hero and a baseline for the world he lives in. And that world is South London (even though the movie was shot in North London).

Actually, the movie starts in space, a meteor/comet/something streaking through the sky toward Earth. Then we’re in South London. Fireworks going off (I never did figure out what they’re for). Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking from the Tube station on her way home from work when Moses (Boyega) and his band of merry delinquents mug her. The muggers are truly kids, which pays off with some truly funny dialog later.

Mid-mugging and that meteor/comet/something obliterates a car, Sam takes off and the crew decide to check out the car. Something attacks Moses – something that looks like “a monkey fucked a fish” and he stabs it, they chase it down and kill it. It’s a small, ugly E.T. looking thing. They end up showing it around, impressing girls. They finally decide to take the corpse to Ron (the always brilliant Nick Frost) the local weed dealer because “he watches National Geographic all the time” and probably knows what it is.

He doesn’t.

Ron: [about the alien the boys found] No idea. Not a bloody clue. Maybe there was a party at the zoo, and a monkey fucked a fish.

Neither does Brewis (Luke Treadway), one of Ron’s better customers, and a posh Uni student. Brewis is a total bio nut, watching, in Act One, a thing on television about female moths releasing a pheromone when the conditions are right to breed. A bit of foreshadowing.

We also need a secondary plot – a land based antagonist for Moses. Hi-Hatz, the local real thug, weed dealer, packing heat and dealing coke. Hi-Hatz fronts Moses some cocaine to sell, setting up conflict later on. For the time being, though, Moses sees it as a step up in the gang hierarchy and a way to make some serious cash.

Near the end of Act One a stream of meteors/comets/somethings land around them, including in the park. The boys grab weapons – rusty machetes, pipes, baseball bats, fireworks – and head out to “service some Gollums”.

Act One ends (at 22 minutes) with the boys finding the landing site at the park, and realising that the thing that landed is three times the size of the one they’d just killed.

Act Two

If Act One is setting the baseline for the world, characters and status quo, Act Two, up to the Midpoint, is the response to the First Plot Point, which in this case is the realisation that there are hundreds of these aliens attacking their block.

The violence is immediate. Moses and crew chase down one of the beasts while trying to save one of the kid’s dog. Sam has gone to the police, and she’s driving around the neighbourhood in the police van looking for Moses and he crew. They find Moses and while he’s being arrested he see’s one of the aliens approaching. Just after the police put him in the back of the van (and, remember, Sam is in the front of the van), the alien attacks and kills the two police. Moses crew arrive and they steal the police van, heading for the local parking garage.

Unfortunately the kid driving “is getting driving lessons for Christmas” and ends up having a head-on collision with Hi-Hatz, who is armed, pissed off and looks like he’s seriously going to kill them all. Then, at the perfect time for a pinch point, they hear a noise, Hi-Hatz sends his buddy to go look and BAM, at 33:01, an alien eats him. Tears him to shreds and eats him. Hi-Hatz unloads his handgun on the alien and the kids take off.

By the way, the alien at this point looks like a stumpy gorilla with no eyes and luminescent teeth. Really big luminescent teeth.

From here to the midpoint is an extended chase/battle sequence with Moses’ crew on bikes (motor and push-pedal) running from a couple of aliens. (imdb trivia states that for the most part these aliens were practical effects, almost no visual effects). Most of the crew make it to the block, except Biggz who ends up holed up in a dumpster.

In an extremely improbably coincidence, the boys end up in Sam’s flat. She’s a nurse, which comes in handy because one of the boys was bitten on the leg by the alien. She’s patching him up and telling the kids that’s she’s thinking of moving, because she doesn’t like the area (much to their surprise), when the alien finds them. It breaks down the door and Moses nearly decapitates it with one of the boys’ sword. They finally get a chance to see it in the light – blacker than any black they’ve ever seen (impossible to see in the dark) and massive teeth. Sam finally realises it’s not a dog (like she thought is was earlier).

Sam: You think I’m going to help you? After you attacked me and robbed me, and then set those dogs on the police?

Dennis: Yes to the first two, no to the last one.

Pest: Dogs? What kind of dogs those? Dogs with no eyes? Dogs the size of gorillas? You think them things are dogs? Go out there and try feeding them some Pedigree Chum! They’re ALIENS, luv!

Sam: Whatever the fuck they are, they’re not fucking aliens!

Dennis: You swear too much, man.

Pest: Yeah, you got a potty mouth, man.

Jerome: Look, whatever they are, they’re inside the Block now. They’re after everyone.

Dennis: Yeah. We’re on the same side, man. Get it?


They grab weapons and hit the streets looking for a safe place to hole up. Which happens to be a friend’s place. She’s got a thing for Moses (established in Act One). There’s a bit of a discussion about the unfairness of the cops, aliens and a bit of exposition when a couple of aliens show up at the window. On the eighth floor. There’s a battle and Sam ends up saving Moses’ life. (Second Pinch Point at 55 minutes).

Hi-Hatz catches up with the fleeing Moses and co and shoots at the, ends up in a left with a couple of cronies and an alien. Inexplicably he survives, stepping out to meet the perpetually stoned Brewis.

Brewis and Sam and most of Moses’ crew get into a different lift (too many dead bodies and too much blood in the other one and head to Ron’s weed room.

Sam: What’s Ron’s weed room?

Brewis: It’s a big room! Full of weed. And it’s Ron’s.

And it’s also pretty secure. The plan is to ride it out and hope things are better in the morning.

The end of Act Two needs an “all is lost” moment, when the heroes appear defeated with no way to survive. They get to the 19th floor – Ron’s floor – and discover there are aliens down the hall blocking their passage. They shoot fireworks down the hall, temporarily distracting them, but in the process filling the hallway with smoke, screwing up visibility. A couple die in the fight, but they finally make it to Ron’s apartment. He lets them in and Moses comes face-to-face with H-Hatz and his gun.

It doesn’t go well for Hi-Hatz, though. There are a dozen aliens out the window. They attack and kill Hi-Hatz and Moses, Sam and the boys make a dash for the weed room. Locked in and nowhere to go, a mass of aliens on the outside. Sixty-six minutes in. Like clockwork

Act Three

Our heroes are sitting around Ron’s weed room, regretting past decisions (“We shouldn’t have chased that thing. I should’ve stayed home and played FIFA.”) when Moses walks past some ultra-violet growing lights. The back of his jacket lights up like a theatre marquee. Brewis makes the pheromone connection and the fact that the aliens are tracking them – Moses in particular – because he smells like a female alien.

Brewis: Well, whatever it is, you’re covered in it and it seems to be piquing the interest of a rather hostile alien species. I’m just saying… maybe if you took those clothes off, they wouldn’t know we’re here.

Pest: You fancy him or something? Are you trying to get him naked?

The final clue. The final piece of information needed to get to the end. But how to do it? Moses realises that the pheromones kill. If you’re clean you don’t get attacked. He hatched a plan to lead them all to single place to kill them. He makes sure Sam is clean and sends her to his apartment one floor down. Following Moses’ instructions she closes all the windows and turns on all the gas.

Moses straps the original (female) alien to his back, launches himself through the crowd of angry male aliens and mad-dashes it to his apartment. The aliens follow him in, he corrals them one place and uses the final firecracker to light the gas, blowing them up, and him out the window.

Fortunately there’s a Union Jack hanging off the balcony, perfectly situated. He ends up dangling from it.

And that’s the end. There are arrests, of course, and the crowd starts chanting “Moses. Moses. Moses.” Sam tells the police the “gang” protected her, that they’re her neighbours, so I guess there’s a little bit of character arc for her and Moses, but it’s a sci-fi movie – character arc is stunted, generally, when there are aliens.

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