Don’t call new council-estate alien-invasion movie Attack the Block a debut. Instead, take a few moments to delve into the archives and you’ll discover that its London-born writer-director Joe Cornish already has a glittering silver-screen career behind him. Take Toytanic, for instance, his cuddly-toy remake of James Cameron’s epic, made in collaboration with Cornish’s childhood chum Adam Buxton for their Channel 4 series The Adam and Joe Show. ‘That was fun,’ he says with a nostalgic titter. ‘I built a ship that was the length of two dining-room tables, then I built a three-quarter-sized one – as Cameron would have done – and then I smashed them both up.’ Delve even deeper and you might unearth Speeding on the Needlebliss, a hard-hitting tale of trigger-happy drum ’n’ bass DJs.
While Attack the Block once again showcases Cornish’s knack for dismantling pop-cultural clichés, it’s a more sincere form of homage. His self-confessed ‘obsession’ with fantasy and adventure movies inspires a story in which a street gang fends off ape-like space aliens with glow-in-the-dark fangs. Cornish’s eyes fizz with enthusiasm when talk turns to growing up. ‘The first movie I ever saw on my own was The Black Stallion at the Odeon Haymarket in London, and it was amazing. I was about 10, and on the bus home it was like I was on drugs or something. My uncle was the editor of the magazine for the British UFO Research Association, and he took me to see Close Encounters when I was even younger. For a long time, I took it as read that UFOs existed.
‘People my age grew up in an amazing time. We had the golden age of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, those extraordinarily imaginative movies. We had home video that was unregulated, so during the day you could go and see Star Wars and in the evening – aged 11! – you could go to the local Video Shuttle and rent Zombie Flesh Eaters. We got the birth of video games, hip hop. I think Attack the Block reflects how hard all those things hit me.’
Beyond this deep-seated love of fantasy cinema, Cornish is mindful of some of the hackneyed elements that litter current genre films. ‘The monsters in Attack the Block are a reaction to the trendy CGI aesthetic of hyper detail. As a kid I used to enjoy drawing things like the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.’
Even before he started making Attack the Block – a process that from conception to completion took two years – Cornish had already supped from the Hollywood fountain, collaborating with Spielberg and Peter Jackson on their motion-capture version of Tintin, released this year. ‘Well… my contribution to Tintin is pretty fractional compared to the size of the brains and talent involved,’ he says. ‘Edgar Wright and I did two passes on the script, then I did a few passes on my own when Edgar had to go and make Scott Pilgrim. And Steven and Peter were involved in every detail. It would be wrong for me to claim any more than a fraction of credit, but it was an extraordinary experience.’
So if purists can refrain from calling Attack the Block a debut, they might see it as a watershed film for Cornish, one that demonstrates his chops for clever, commercially minded cinema that, thankfully, doesn’t feel like the product of some listless journeyman with no personal investment in the material. ‘I always felt I got into comedy by accident. I’ve wanted to make films since I was a kid. I’m not a brilliant performer. I think I prefer to be behind the camera than in front of it.’ Attack the Block is scheduled for release in UAE cinemas on June 9.