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Attack the Block

On the strength of this exhilarating comedy, the British director Joe Cornish surely has a dazzling career ahead of him.

Director: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Alex Esmail, Nick Frost
****

Attack the Block is pure alchemy - one of those rare instances where every single aspect of the film is spot on, everything working in harmony, resulting in something that is absolutely perfect for what it is. It's even more of an achievement when you consider that this is 42-year-old Londoner Joe Cornish's first film, and one with a relatively modest 9 million (Dh54m) budget at that.

Apart from a great high-concept premise - an alien invasion in a council estate - and an equally great script, the writer-director Cornish has the benefit of having friends in high places. He's been a hero of cult TV and radio in the UK for years, and Attack the Block was put together by some of the production team responsible for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, while those films' director Edgar Wright was the executive producer.

Cornish, an enormous cinema buff, has thrown a life's worth of film influences - from Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien to Steven Spielberg's ET - into a story he's been brewing for 15 years or so. As the group of hooded teenagers tool up and begin to protect their estate from terrifying aliens, Cornish seamlessly blends gritty inner-city realism with fantastical genre staples.

With the intention of creating a cinematic love letter to south London, where he has spent most of his life, he also wanted to humanise the type of teenagers who populate not only that area, but many areas of the UK, and who have in recent years been reduced by UK tabloids to one-dimensional, faceless monsters. Cornish's idea was to pit them against exactly that, giving us little option but to root for a very charismatic and often bumbling gang of kids - even if we never quite forget that they've just mugged a young woman.

The result is fantastic - often as funny as it is exciting - without having to shoehorn in overt attempts at "comedy". The humour comes from the characters just being funny, intentionally or (more often than not) otherwise.

Cornish spent a lot of time developing his script with the young actors, ensuring he'd end up with authentic street dialogue, as opposed to a 42-year-old film director's version of it. And such attention to detail seems to have been par for the course with everything in the film, from the incredible, unsettling sound design to the aliens themselves - very convincing beasts that are as traditional as they are original.

Cornish doesn't put a foot wrong. The pace never flags, the film doesn't let up until the credits roll. It's exhilarating. As a writer, Cornish has worked with Wright on Marvel Comics' forthcoming Ant Man adaptation (to be directed by Wright), as well as Spielberg's forthcoming The Adventures of Tintin. As a director, his future looks dazzling. Attack the Block is the start of what's sure to be a very special career.

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