About halfway through District 9 something clicked inside of me. I got a huge smile across my face, felt a slight tingle and I thought to myself, “This movie is awesome!” And when it was over and the credits were rolling I knew I had just seen something special.
When an alien ship parks itself over Johannesburg, and nothing happens, no one knows what to do. After a couple of weeks of waiting and watching, the South African military decides to cut its way into the ship. Once inside, the soldiers find an extraterrestrial race that is very sick and on the verge of dying. Instead of wiping them out, the humans build a facility to house the creatures and nurse them back to health. Years later, the facility is now a dirty slum with humans and aliens living side-by-side. The locals are not happy and they want these “prawns” (their derogatory term for the aliens) out of their city.
A contract to evict the aliens to a new area outside of Johannesburg called District 10 is given to a private company called Multi-National United (MNU). The head of the MNU team leading the mission is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). He’s popular, has a lovely family and is an all-around good guy. During the evictions, Wikus is sprayed with something from an alien device and starts to feel very sick. A few hours later he notices things happening to his body, such as his teeth falling out and his fingernails coming off. And then he starts turning into an alien himself.
Most of the film is shot documentary-style. Although it has a low-budget feel it never gets shaky or amateur, and with many different video and film formats used I was most impressed with how well the aliens and the alien ship, which is always seen hovering in the background, blend in. Not once did I feel they were out of place or digital effects. They just felt like they belonged.
Peter Jackson produced District 9, and his name is the first thing you see (Peter Jackson Presents…), but this is director Neil Blomkamp’s film and vision (it’s based on the short film Alive in Joburg that Blomkamp made in 2005). Blomkamp proves you can shoot an original story using effects without only relying on the effects. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his name beside other great sci-fi directors like James Cameron, Ridley Scott, George Lucas and Jackson in years to come.
Aliens aside, it’s newcomer Copley who really steals the film as Wikus. The role requires him to do comedy, action and horror and he succeeds on all counts. He’s a fresh face with a lot of talent.
District 9 is Aliens meets 28 Days Later meets The Office mixed with the video game Gears of War. Half of it is over-the-top violent while the other half is an imaginative look at a race divide in Johannesburg. There’s lots to like and as far as science-fiction horror is concerned it’s one of the best.
**** out of 5 stars
Cast: Sharlto Copley
Directed by: Neil Blomkamp