Wednesday, September 14, 2011


If you were left dispirited (as I was) by the cynically sentimental SUPER 8, you will find reason to rejoice in this lean, nifty “B” horror movie from writer/director Joe Cornish.  Set in present day South London, the film introduces a gang of teen hooligans led by Moses (John Boyega) as they rob nursing graduate Sam (Jodie Whittaker) of her purse and jewelry.  A crashing meteorite that contains an outer space alien interrupts the robbery.  Armed with knives and bats the boys attack and kill the creature (it’s the size of a large chimpanzee) and carry the corpse back to Wyndham Towers, a large tenement building where they each reside (along with, as we soon find out, Sam).  In the penthouse flat of local weed-grower Ron (Nick Frost) the gang discusses where to sell their trophy.  The reverie is interrupted by a shower of meteorites around the block, portending a fresh batch of invaders.  Emboldened, the boys storm down but discover instead a pack of black-furred aliens the size of Saint Bernards with sharp, glowing teeth and bad tempers.  Cowed, they retreat to the Towers, doggedly pursued by the monsters.  Director Cornish playfully toys with genre conventions -- at times honoring them, at other times turning them slyly on their head -- while writer Cornish shows genuine affection for his not-so-wholesome teen characters.  His clever script acknowledges their faults without judging or absolving and provides subtle social commentary that could have been written by George Romero in a more lighthearted mood.  Thanks to an engaging cast, we, too, become fond of this ragtag band of underage thugs, which raises the emotional stakes once the monsters start biting.  Resembling a teenage Denzel Washington, Boyega has a soulful gravitas that commands attention.  He, along with the appealing Whittaker, ground the often-chaotic proceedings.  Meanwhile Alex Esmail, as the aptly named Pest, and Luke Treadaway, as perpetually stoned amateur zoologist Brewis, provide the film’s largest helpings of comic relief, a task normally delegated to Frost (whose performance here is subdued).  In his promising first feature Cornish ably delivers ample scares and generous laughs.  I look forward to his next film.

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