Attack The Block is a British horror movie directed by comedian Joe Cornish. It is set in a South London housing estate and follows a group of teen muggers, who form an unlikely alliance with a nurse they have robbed, when aliens attack their tower block.
The film was submitted to the BBFC with no category request in March 2011. If they wish, distributors are allowed to signpost to examiners which category they would prefer for a work, although in this case they did not do this. Nevertheless, it is clear from the characters, the tone of the work and the general address, that it had strong appeal to older teenage viewers.
The film contains frequent strong language from the start, with over 50 uses of 'f**k' and some uses of 'motherf****r' throughout. Under current BBFC Guidelines, where only infrequent strong language is permitted at 12A, the work was automatically therefore a 15 category within the first reel.
The violence, gore and threat in the film are strong, with some scenes of bloody injury as human characters are bitten, scratched, attacked and killed. In some sequences a lot of blood is seen, pumping from characters’ mouths for example. The strongest moments include a man seen in a lift full of bloodied bodies, himself dripping with blood; close up shots of injuries; and sight of a young adult’s face ripped up by aliens.
Examiners noted there was some contextual justification for stronger moments, as the film is a horror work based on a fantastical scenario, albeit in a contemporary and recognisable setting. This means that - although there is some focus on tension, threat, characters in danger, chase scenes and injuries - the aliens and monsters have less impact as they are clearly part of the film’s horror world and are the sort of elements audiences expect from horror movies. Some could also argue there are comic elements to the monsters, who are, when they are finally seen, large and hairy with glow in the dark teeth and sex on the brain. There is similarly no sadistic violence - it is all in the context of self-defence. Therefore there seems no problem with containing the violence and gore at 15, where the Guidelines state 'Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury. The strongest gory images are unlikely to be acceptable.'
The BBFC must take note of contemporary and easily available weapons, and be particularly mindful of how these weapons are used, especially in films aimed at children and those passed at U, PG and 12A.
Though there is some focus on a knife in a mugging early on, and use of guns and machetes throughout, the film didn’t glamorise weapons and later the main characters employ weapons to defend themselves against evil alien forces. The adult character, Sam, is also a voice of reason, criticising the gang’s criminal behaviour and making a distinction between this and their self-defence against the aliens.
Fireworks are used as weapons in the film, and the BBFC has intervened through cuts in works aimed at young and very young children which feature dangerous firework play. However, in this instance, given the work is clearly for older teens and young adults, it did not affect the 15 classification.
There was some discussion, however, about the portrayal of drug use, drug taking and drug dealing in the film. Attack The Block contains numerous scenes in which characters smoke pot, and several scenes take place in the villains' marijuana growing facility within his own flat. The drug store, known as ‘the weed room’ is used as a safe house later as the block is besieged and a character claims he is smoking weed for pain relief. A character is also arrested by police for possession of hard drugs and a knife
The BBFC Guidelines at 15 state that 'drug taking may be shown but the film as a whole must not promote or encourage drug misuse'. Examiners had to consider whether the volume of drugs references ‘normalise’ drug taking, or merely reflect the world of the film where some characters take drugs and others are more critical of it. They also had to bear in mind precedents for soft drug taking and dealing in works classified 15, such as the Johnny Vegas sitcom Ideal. In Attack The Block it is a villainous character who deals drugs, including cocaine, although the latter is not seen to be used. Several characters are shown to have their judgement and abilities impaired by smoking joints, and the hero rejects drug dealing and chooses not to smoke anything before an important mission.
The only sex reference of any note is a passing and comic reference to the sexually transmitted disease, Chlamydia.
Examiners concluded, after discussion with senior examiners and the BBFC’s Director, David Cooke, that the work could be contained at 15, where the film’s appeal lies, and where it sits alongside other works which include reference to drugs and sight of drug use - not least as there are no clear elements that glamorise drug taking for younger audiences.
The film was passed at 15 and the BBFCinsight explained to the public that it contained strong language, violence, gore and soft drug use. It was selected for National Schools Film Week in 2011.