Science fiction and fantasy                                            

District 9

directed by Neill Blomkamp

District 9 poster  
It's become a movie staple for aliens arriving on Earth to hover over New York, London or The White House in their mother ships, as though they're instinctively drawn to the world's tourist traps. In District 9 the aliens have failed to read the brochure, instead parking over Johannesburg and neglecting to book themselves a good hotel. They're flown down to Earth and held in a vast refugee camp, District 9, which soon transforms into a sprawling alien slum.

The story is told in the style of a documentary, although later on the film is told in a more traditional way because of the limitations of this format. At first people try to co-exist with the aliens, which are known as prawns. But the prawns are violent creatures with no understanding of human rules. People want them moved on. MNU is the organisation tasked with dealing with them, and Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is given the unenviable job of evicting them.

To begin with Wikus carries out his role with gusto and brutality. The prawns are filthy and repellent, but in spite of this we're encouraged to feel sorry for them when Wikus bumbles in, cheerful and incompetent, and gets his job done without caring about how many of them he casually causes to be slaughtered on the way.

The aliens aren't entirely helpless, however. They possess weapons encoded to their genes which won't work in human hands. Nigerian gangsters are eager to get their hands on this technology. Desperate to find the key to unlocking it for their own use, they go to extremes. And the Nigerians aren't the only ones: the authorities want this tech as well.

With the South African setting and the premise of aliens in a slum, you might think the movie could be a metaphor for apartheid. There's certainly a suggestion of that, but it's really not the focus. Instead the story centres on what happens to Wikus after he accidentally spills some strange alien fluid on himself. It's more of an alien thriller than an Enemy Mine-style homily on interracial tolerance. For one thing, there's lots and lots of splattery violence. Anyone who gets shot tends to explode, and there are some gruesome scenes best not watched near dinner time. I won't give away the details.

Although it makes a change to watch fiction as a documentary, the format does have disadvantages. It's a little dry, and because the movie starts by looking back at events there are more spoilers early on than there would be otherwise. However District 9 has a very distinctive appearance, and the way it's told makes its unusual theme and oddball central character stand out further.

It's almost fascinating, until the film descends into a haze of violence and giant robotic machines. Hard-hitting and novel, this gross-out alien movie just misses out on a charge of being insightful because it gets too preoccupied with the messy business of shooting and blowing things up.

Film Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 15

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson