With big screen horror films routinely returning to familiar paradigms, whether it be psychotic killers stalking teens or the post-Blair Witch Project video “reality” strain (like Paranormal Activity 3, last week’s box-office monster), it’s always a treat to find filmmakers reviving old genres with new attitude and hacking their way through new territory. This week, two recent horror imports show that ingenuity and creativity are alive and well in the horror genre: Attack the Block (Sony) from Britain and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Oscilloscope) from Finland.
Attack the Block (Sony), an alien invasion movie set in the gang-run projects of South London, is both far smarter than it looks on the surface, and more indebted to the drive-in horror movie culture than has been acknowledged.
While fireworks fill the sky, meteors pelt the streets, unleashing inky-black predators on an unsuspecting gang of teen thugs and a young nurse (Jodie Whittaker) who they just mugged. Most monsters have eyes that glow in the dark. These inky-black furry predators are all teeth and they glow in the dark with a threat they can’t ignore. Part of the pleasure of the film is the way filmmaker Joe Cornish gives these memorable creatures, smudgy “wolf-monkey” fur balls that disappear in the shadows and leap out like all-mouthy eating machines, a startling physicality. As unreal as they look, they are insistently present and threatening.
But even more impressive is the way he brings us into the social culture of the neighborhood and past the first impressions of these young gang members. John Boyega, a remarkable young actor who portrays Moses, the glaring leader of the group, is a performer to watch; the volatile mix of anger and toughened attitude he brings to the role covers a vulnerable young man beneath the pose. Plus, how can you not like a film where a dazed and confused stoner (Nick Frost) figures out how to fight these aliens because he watches a lot of natural history TV.