Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis ( Franz Drameh), Moses (John Boyega), Biggz (Simon Howard) and Jerome (Leeon Jones) © 2011 Screen Gems

Attack the Block is one of the most enjoyable popcorn movies of the summer, a low-budget British horror romp with an affectionate sense of humor about the genre that never resorts to outright parody.

Like the smart and appealingly original Shaun of the Dead (whose director/co-writer Edgar Wright is a producer here), the comedy in Attack the Block is more character-based than situational. There’s nothing funny about the bloodthirsty, darker than midnight aliens whose most prominent features are their huge and brightly glowing blue teeth. But it is funny to hear someone try describing the creatures by saying “maybe there was a party at the zoo and a monkey f***ed a fish.”

The movie’s unlikely protagonists are masked, hoodie-wearing teens first seen mugging a terrified woman in low-income South London. They are interrupted when something crashes through the roof of a nearby car. Investigating the damage, tough-talking gang leader Moses (the believably intimidating John Boyega) is taken aback when a creepy alien slashes him across the face before running away. Instead of being awed or terrified, Moses is so infuriated by the implied disrespect that he rushes after the thing to kill it. ET this ain’t, in other words.

(clockwise from bottom left) Jerome (Leeon Jones), Brewis (Luke Treadaway), Sam (Jodie Whittaker), Moses (John Boyega) and Pest (Alex Esmail) © 2011 Screen Gems

The gang takes the creepy corpse to laid-back drug dealer Ron (Nick Frost) in hopes of storing it in his secure “weed room” until they can sell it to a tabloid. Ron has to consult his intensely badass higher-up Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter), who goes along with the plan because he thinks the alien is only a puppet.

Unfortunately, lots more aliens that are bigger and meaner than the first begin arriving in the vicinity. All of them start coming after Moses and company, who arm themselves with an arsenal of blades, bats and a backpack full of fireworks.

Writer and first-time director Joe Cornish does a neat job of making the jittery juvenile delinquents human and occasionally hilarious even while their criminal bent keeps them from being entirely sympathetic. Jodie Whittaker is perfect as a no-nonsense nurse named Sam, the understandably indignant mugging victim who is forced by circumstances to become the gang’s unlikely ally. Luke Treadaway, as a goofily whitebread pothead in the wrong place at the wrong time, knows just enough about zoology to be helpful. And two nine-year-olds who want to be called Probs and Mayhem (Sammy Williams and Michael Ajao) are so amusingly eager to be taken seriously by the gang that they nearly steal the show.

Cornish also is good with action and chase scenes, such as when the gang members race around the raised concrete walkways of their lower-class council estate on bikes and mopeds to escape the pursuing aliens and police. And the special effects that make the “big gorilla alien wolf monster” creatures “too black to see” are surprisingly effective.

One caveat: Some of the movie’s South London by way of Jamaica accents are so thick that the movie sometimes feels like a total-immersion experience in English as another language.  But the overall storytelling works so well that a few unintelligible bits won’t spoil the fun.

[Rating: 4]

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.