Attack the Blocked

Thanks to the good folks at Badass Digest, I had the chance last night to attend a screening of  Attack the Block, the film that blew the doors off the joint at SXSW earlier this year (a lot of film sites offered up the link to get the passes, but Badass is the one that led me to them).  If you’ve never attended one of these advanced screenings, the experience is not unlike trying to board a life boat on the Titanic; some of you are gonna make it, and some of you are gonna be hugging icebergs.  The distributors don’t want a half-empty house, so they way overbook these screenings to guarantee a full house (and it probably doesn’t hurt to be able to say they had to turn people away, to give the film some “must-see” buzz).  It even says right on the passes that the piece of paper you’re holding doesn’t guarantee you a seat, that the theater is overbooked, that you should get there early.

So it’s not without a little amusement that I’m reading some of the reports of people being upset about getting turned away last night.  Not so much from them not being able to see the film despite plenty of advance warning of the possibility, but from their misconception that the whole point of this exercise was to simply let people see a free movie.

These things are marketing, pure and simple.  All the advertising in the world can’t compare to a few thousand people saying — or blogging or Tweeting or whatever the hell we’ll be doing tomorrow — “That movie was pretty awesome.”  Especially in the case of a smaller film like Attack the Block, word of mouth is essential, not only in getting people to see it, but in getting it distributed in the first place — there’s been considerable hand-wringing over whether American audiences will understand the thick accents in the film, which didn’t seem to be an issue with the audience I was in, and an issue which may be assuaged by response to these screenings.  And in return for extending the distributor’s marketing arm, you get to see a movie for free and before everyone else.  Everybody wins.

Now I’m sure there are exceptions where the distributor is genuinely enthusiastic about the film they’re showing (which is definitely the case with Attack the Block), and simply want to get people excited about it so their film gets seen.  But when the local radio station is lobbing t-shirts into a crowd there to see something like The Hangover Part II a few days early — something you’d have to have been living in a cave not to have heard about — well, something tells me it ain’t about the craft.

As for the film in question this particular evening, it’s worth the hype, even if I didn’t fall as much in love with it the way some in the online community have.  There’s an initial unlikeability to the main characters that I don’t think is as acknowledged, explained, or redeemed as some others have said, and some of the film’s attempts to explain their current situations seem a little abrupt.  It put me somewhat at arm’s length at the start of the film, and only near the end started to pull me back.  But the film is a masterpiece of pacing and construction, building and building to a suitably grand climax, one which contains probably my favorite scene of the year, using not elaborate CGI or kinetic editing, but something as simple and old-fashioned as slow-motion and scoring.  And it’s got some great monsters too (who even manage to be a bit of a nod to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if you pay attention).

Hell, I’ve pretty much just talked myself into wanting to see it again writing that last paragraph.  Marketing mission accomplished.

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