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The highly anticipated “Attack the Block” arrives with an assured growl

Joe Cornish’s debut film “Attack the Block” has been riding a wave of hype and critical praise since its premiere at the music and movie festival South by Southwest in March.

While the film has already received a nationwide release in the United Kingdom, the United States release has been a slower process – even after being picked up by the Sony Pictures-owned distributor Screen Gems.

On Wednesday, Screen Gems hosted a special preview of “Attack the Block” in over 25 U.S. cities to see how the film would play with an American audience. If those in attendance at the Regal Winter Park Village in Winter Park, Florida are any evidence of nationwide audiences, Screen Gems shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

“Attack the Block” is a crowd-pleaser in the best of ways. While the film has drawn many comparisons to “Gremlins” and “The Goonies,” it isn’t simply a homage to a bygone era – it adds a sense of action and grittiness that were appropriately missing from both those films.

The film follows a pack of teenage thugs growing up in the London projects, otherwise known as “The Block.” When the gang brutally kills a scaly little creature that appears before them, they have no concept of the repercussions that will follow their actions.

Once some larger and far more ferocious extraterrestrial creatures begin to stalk them through their housing project, the gang bands together along with a few outsiders to fight back. One of those outsiders is a young nurse, played by Jodie Whittaker, who seeks protection from the very same gang who attempted to mug her only hours before the chaos began.

The story is very familiar, but first-time director Joe Cornish seems to reinvent the wheel this time around. It’s clear that Cornish, who has previously worked with “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World” director Edgar Wright on several projects, shares his penchant for hyperkinetic action sequences and breathless editing.

Much like Wright was able to accomplish with “Scott Pilgrim,” Cornish directs an ensemble of up-and-coming actors to some truly memorable performances. John Boyega, who plays the gang’s leader Moses, is outstanding as a tortured soul who perhaps has been waiting for his chance to do the right thing all along.

The score by European dance group Basement Jaxx becomes the literal pulse of the film, beating along to every alien encounter – as well as simple conversations in the living rooms of these characters.

While Cornish may like to zip through the suspenseful action and scare sequences of “Attack the Block,” it’s when everything comes to a grinding halt and we’re able to see these people experience this unprecedented event that the movie stands out from the other invasion films out there.

While 2011 has seen its share of well-made but forgettable mainstream films like “Paul” and “Scream 4,” “Attack the Block” seems fit to stick around in your consciousness longer than most films that are made to purely entertain.