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Thumped’s Random Dvd trip: Wherein we enter the Xtravisions across the road and grab the first couple of things that appear in the shelf. This week: Attack The Block & Outcast.

Thumped’s Random Dvd trip: Wherein we enter the Xtravisions across the road and grab the first couple of things that appear in the shelf.

This week we’ll be having a goo at contempary British “horror” movies, and contemplating the massive fine we incurred on last weeks films when we left them in a bag for two days and couldn’t find them.

Joe Cornish used to be funny. I use the past tense, because after watching Attack the Block, it’s clear that hilarity is no longer his forte. Same goes for “the people that brought you Shaun of the Dead” as the cover grandly proclaims. They used to be funny. Nick Frost, he had a thing, but that thing is longer funny, unless his new thing is to be decidedly unfunny, in which case, he’s doing well. It makes one reconsider the entire canon of these people, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and the rest, as they’ve been involved in nothing but cinematic arsestains since. Were they just lucky with Spaced, flawed but charming, and Shaun of The Dead? Everything that made Shaun of the Dead work is missing in this movie. There’s no pathos, no sympathy, and crucially no zombies, just some midgets in insideout parka jackets with glow in the dark Dracula teeth in. But, as this is Cornish’s debut film, he can only go upwards.

Anyhoo, the guff: Our protagonist is called Moses, and will be he who leads his people out of the darkness here. They live in a tower called Wyndam tower. They’re surrounded by other places with names like Ballard, Huxley, Moore and the rest. Do you see what they’ve done here? Seriously, Joe, you don’t have to spell out every little thing. We don’t need some young one half way through pointing at Moses and telling him that he brought these things here and everything he touches gets killed. It’s all too obvious. One wonders as to the statement gangs of hoodies, and their loyalty to their block. Are they are essentially good kids who put on their accents just to fit? That they’re honourably territorial and will do whatever is required of them to protect the neighbourhood? Or that they apparently live in a 20 floor tower block with about 12 other people? Recent pictures of like-apparelled scoundrels from similar estates throwing debris and making off with 42″ plasma screens seem way off the mark. Questions also arise over the authenticity of the squalor of Cornish’s chosen block when it appears the lifts actually work.

The plot is as straightforward as the great ones are (dead come to life, attack living for whatever reason, young guy inherits family business from dad, kills brother, etc); essentially what happens is a load of meteorites fall down on this small part of Lahndahn Thaan, and contained within are these blood thirsty parkas with the silly teeth. They mean to kill and feast and do those kinds of things for whatever reason. Moses has been introduced to us at this stage, having just mugged Jodie Whittaker (who’s not unreasonably hot at all) at knife point. He and his cronies then kill an alien. Is there some kind of message about inherent xenophobia in this? Fear the unknown, be it of alien origin or from another block. Are the creatures black because of the spectre of black on black crime that afflicts London’s inner city, or because the Police, or Feds, wear black? Or, and this seems most likely, are they without feature because this is the best the filmmakers could think up after a few weeks in front of a flip chart and a few thousand mochachinos?

There’s all this clunky baggage attached, and all too obvious nods and homages to frankly better movies, for this thing to ever take off on its own. The language used by the kids could be amusing if it were intelligible, or not suffused with anti-socialism. It may actually take an alien invasion to rehabilitate the reputation of London’s inner city yoof, but certainly Cornish hasn’t done it here. He’s clearly an outsider, fascinated by the nuance of an organic vernacular, evolving right underneath the noses of middle-class England, a new language and culture; like suddenly finding the anthropological bonanza of a lost tribe hidden within the bulge of some Amazonian forest, who suddenly stick a shiv between your ribs and make off with your phone.

The premise is as old as movies itself, protagonists trapped by unknown aggressors, etc. but it only every works if the protagonists aren’t utter shits. Where’s the conflict? Where’s the love? And having some upper class stoner zoology student on hand to explain what’s going on as we progress is a little reductive. There was potential here, in so far as the siege movie only ever moves house, rather than circumstance, and the block may have worked as a venue for some battles. But it turns out the block was too big and unwieldy, a bit like Cornish’s ideas.

 

Speaking of front of DVD box guff, how about “the best British horror since The Descent“? That’s what Outcast promises, and, inevitably, fails to deliver on by some hundreds of miles. The Descent was good, the action, and horror, came in short, energetic bursts of barely seen enemies amid the utterly terrifying in it’s own right claustrophobia of the caves. There’s nothing like this here. It’s a dull story; some magic wielding travellers are hunting down someone, and James Nesbitt is to be their tool of death. Nesbitt has traded in his twinkly eyed Irish ragamuffin role for the lank haired, quick fisted, alcoholic role. Well, as long as it’s a cliché, eh James? These punters, who are all powerful with the spells and shit, live in a halting site, which begs the question, couldn’t they magic up a nicer pad? Couldn’t they magic up some hot water and a bar of soap? Anyway, somewhere some magic got out of hand, and now the boy must die, so Nesbitt, and his chum, set off to Scotland in search of their quarry.

Now, a halting site is one thing, but it’s better than the grim housing estate the boy and his mother, Kate Dickie, are living on. Again, if his ma can use her magic to bewilder minor civil servants, as she clearly can, why doesn’t she use it to get some nicer digs? Or a better haircut for her son? But I digress. Having just moved in, the boy, Fergal, meets his next door neighbour, Petronella, and, within seconds, they’re profoundly in love. So much so that he’s revealing the family skeletons to her and she’s planning to run away with him before they’ve even swapped juices. Meanwhile a terrifying beast is killing some minor characters, including Petronella’s best mate, whom she manages to forget about pretty quickly, once she confirms that nay wan saw her that morning.

Magic, it seems, is all about the cosmic Barclays. When a naked Fergal stands at a mirror, Petronella has a shufty in her cot next door, and a naked Nesbit and a naked Dickie have some trans-temporal-plane wank-off over the embers of a fire. There’s a real Onanisticly indulgent sense to the entire film, other than the non-climax of its dénouement. In a word, it’s wanky.

Actually, Shaft is the word I’ve invented for it, as it’s both Shite and Daft simultaneously. Worse than that, however, is the fact that it’s really fucking boring, and who gives a shit? Here’s some magic none of the producers of this hock considered, the ability to get these two hours back so that I can creosote the fence or something far more engaging.

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