A nurse walks home one night, only to be surrounded by 5 teenagers on bikes, who then take her purse and ring at knifepoint. Then an alien plummets to earth, hitting the car next to them. Curious, or perhaps bored, the leader of the teens, Moses (John Boyega), tries to investigate, only to be clawed across the face. The teens set off in pursuit and beat the alien to death. At which point more aliens crash in their South London neighborhood, and it turns into a struggle for survival, not just against the aliens, but also against Hi-Hatz, a local drug honcho Moses and his friends have kind of pissed off.
The first half of the movie is mostly out in the neighborhood, though director Joe Cornish does take a few minutes to show us the housing block all the kids live in (by having them run home to grab whatever weapons they own for alien hunting), as that's where the second half of the movie is set. Upon realizing the new arrivals are much larger than the first one, and after some difficulties with both the cops and Hi-Hatz, they concluded the safest place to be was in the block, which they know so well. It doesn't work out that way, as they don't understand how the aliens perceive things, or what they're after, so all hiding in the block really accomplishes in put them in a confined space and put neighbors at risk.
Which is something I don't think they wanted to do. Moses and his friends end up protecting Sam, the nurse they robbed earlier (after forcing their way into her apartment to hide), and one of them tells her they wouldn't have robbed her if they knew she lived in the block like them. People they share circumstances with are not to be hasseled apparently. It's outsiders that aren't to be trusted and are fair game. No one in the block other than Sam appears to have much respect or hope for the cops or the soldiers, who aren't seen doing much during the film. They seal off the block, but there's no sign that they're trying to stop the aliens, or trying to help the people in the block. From inside the housing complex, it might look like the authorities were content to just keep everyone, human or alien in one location and see how it plays out.
I wonder about the distrust of police. It could be as simple as the fact Moses and Co. rob people, which makes them crooks, which would almost necessitate a less than friendly relationship with the cops. But I get the feeling that crook or no, people on the Block don't have a great relationship with cops. There are two kids who've dubbed themselves "Probs" and "Mayhem", trying to get Moses to let them tag along throughout the film. After they kill one of the aliens with a Super Soaker, they run down an alley and meet a bunch of cops in riot gear. The cops first reaction is to start screaming for them to get on the ground, now! Which, guys, it's a freaking Super Soaker, and not even one that looks like a real gun, and they're freaking kids. The boys' response is to run back the way they came and hide in a trash bin. That says a lot about how the cops behave around there*.
There's a lot of use of fireworks in the movie, mostly to distract or frighten the aliens. The downside is they also make a lot of smoke, which makes it hard to see, and obscures their vision. But it's a readily available weapon, the guys don't understand entirely what they're facing, and I don't think they have a concrete plan. Especially once they started getting picked off, I think Moses and his friends want to, well survive, certainly, but strike back. And fireworks startle the aliens, so they use them.
I like Boyega's performance as Moses. He doesn't talk a whole lot, except when he really has something to say. He mostly remains calm, not showing much emotion one way or the other except in extreme circumstances. I'm left wondering what prompts that attitude. We see a little of his life, and it's interesting that as the one member of his group who seems to have no consistent parental influence, he's the parent figure of the his band. He tries to keep them from doing stupid things, tries to keep Probs and Mayhem out of it for their own safety, and leads from the front, whether where he leads them is good or bad.
It's why Sam so completely changing her opinion of him by the end of the movie doesn't seem too horribly cliched. He did scare her badly, and he brought this mess into her apartment, but having done so, he also protected her, and she saw how much he tried to look after his friends as well. I'm biased, though, because characters who show strong loyalty to friends above most anything else, are a favorite of mine.
I have been trying to figure out the title, because "Attack the Block" doesn't seem quite right. "Attack on the Block", or "Protect the Block" seem more accurate. Maybe "Don't Attack the Block". Unless we consider the whole mess Moses' fault, in which case he's set off the attack.
* It's similar to the Local Hero arc in Hitman, when Tommy took the Tac Squad leader hostage. He rides away clean from about 50 cops, while residents of the Cauldron look on and cheer. Tac guy can't believe it, but Tommy points out the cops only come down there to collect protection money or beat people up, so they really can't be surprised even a hitman can be a hero to the locals if he sticks it to the right people.