Film Review: District 9
District 9 (2009)
Theatrical Release Date: August 14, 2009
Directed By: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood, Louis Minnaar, Jason Cope
Review By: Marc Patterson
If you look at District 9 and your first thought is “alien invasion flick” I certainly wouldn’t blame you, but I want to be clear, you would be dead wrong.
Twenty years ago a massive spaceship appears in the sky over Johannesburg South Africa and comes to a complete and utter halt. It does nothing. No aliens emerge. No attack is unleashed. Eventually, after weeks of waiting the government takes action and decides to board the ship. In doing so they find extreme malnutrition, starvation, and sickness amongst an alien population. In a humanitarian effort to save the aliens they transport the aliens off the ship and to earth. Yet, the question is raised as to what you do with an alien species?
The aliens aren’t aggressively harmful, at least in the traditional sense of alien harmfulness, but they do little to assimilate themselves into human culture. So officials do what only seems logical, they quarantine them in an area known as District 9, a place that quickly becomes a shantytown of epic proportions containing over a million aliens. Within this seething wasteland are all sorts of criminal elements, not just limited to the alien species themselves. Nigerian gangs run black market weapon trades, and of all things cat food is being sold to the aliens who find it highly addicting, like a drug.
The aliens are dubbed “prawn”, a derogatory slur indicative of bottom feeding sea creatures and as the city rages against their presence a plan is hatched to move them out of Johannesburg to a location that is supposedly of better conditions.
Into this fray we meet Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a flawed and reluctant hero who is given the unique position to head up a task force meant to serve eviction notices to the aliens. He’s imperfect, geekish, and awkward with the troops. Though extremely knowledgeable of the political situation and the dynamics at hand he utterly lacks the ability to lead and command a team for the situation to which they have been charged. As eviction notices go out the tension rises and quickly the film becomes like a wicked scene from COPS meets the Iraqi war. I won’t go into further detail regarding the plot, so as to not ruin your experience, but some rather shocking events will transpire.
Visually District 9 is a constant moving flurry of visual activity. Shot in a documentary style the film jostles the viewer between varying points of view, from that of the documentary filmmakers to closed circuit security camera’s, to subjective shots designed to drop us in the thick of the action. Through the constant changes the film remains cohesive and works well.
The acting is solid across the board, though the weight of the film mostly falls on the character of Wikus, for whom Copley delivers a stellar performance, and is given the most range to transform and evolve his character, yet always in a way that remains true to his person. At the outset of the film Wikus’ giddy fascination with the aliens reveals that he himself views them as nothing more than a subspecies. And through the terrors that will transpire his character evolves away from someone who is motivated out of self-preservation and self-serving interests to someone who gains deeper insights into this species and ultimately must make some sobering choices on how far he is willing to go to preserve this species.
What becomes critically important to the film is not the reasons why this alien race came to earth. Their origins and motivations are never discussed. In fact, these are not even questions that are asked in the film. What is being discussed is what is going on in the now, and this is where the film succeeds in making some rather intelligent insights.
Are the aliens simply space junk that have been left on the planet and that we have to clean up after and deal with? Or are they a life form worth fighting for and worth saving? In this District 9 takes the idea of what a science fiction film can be and completely flips it on its head and looks at it from the mirrors perspective.
The film reveals more about our true tendencies as humans and the animalistic levels to which we can so easily slide to. It’s not so much a study on the aliens as it is a study on our very humanity. And in looking at our humanity we find that we can be more ugly than the slums of District 9. Our true humanity is one that thrives on greed and destruction. Yet in spite of this, the film isn’t completely nihilistic in its outlook.
District 9 takes these premises and pushes them into an area that is just stunning to watch. The wide-angle lens can’t even take in the breadth of what is being portrayed. This is a massive, massive spaceship over a city that has been torn apart over race, apartheid, so far removed from every conceivable precipice upon which science fiction films are based. There is no fantasy world. There is no egocentric concept of Americanism. And from the get go, by simply removing these elements the film blows open the doors of what we can expect.
For the Brutal As Hell reader you’ll certainly question the blood quota. And in this you should be sufficiently satisfied as District 9 packs in quite a bit of gruesome gore. Heads and bodies explode and bodies are decimated with all sorts of bodily fluids splattering about in every direction. We witness several scenes of limbs being ripped from bodies and raw meat being hacked apart and devoured raw. Alien autopsies, cadavers on display, rotting meat… you name it. When it comes to grisly visuals the film really hits all bases. But it’s not just sensationalism for the sake of it. Much of this is coupled with some genuinely tense moments. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call District 9 a straightaway horror film it certainly retains levels of high suspense and horrific moments for a rather horrifying subject matter.
I don’t want to sound like a blabbering fan boy, and to a degree it may be too late for that, but I really don’t think enough can be said for how perfectly this film was executed. Tense, riveting, and simply the best alien film I’ve seen in years, District 9 is an extremely powerful and intelligent film that shouldn’t be underestimated, and one that fully lives up the hype. Our suggestion is to see this one in the theater. You won’t be disappointed.
Brutal As Hell Rating:
4 ½ out of 5