District 9

****1/2

Reviewed by: Tony Sullivan

"District 9 actually has some intelligence behind it and expects some in front of it, too."

Twenty-eight years ago an enormous bloody great spacecraft parks itself over Johannesburg. Instead of disgourging the traditional hordes of blood-thirsty, rampaging alien invaders, it seems to contain a raggedy mass of unwashed and stale alien refugees.

Having realised the newcomers pose no particular threat, attempts to integrate them into society are met with hostility and xenophobia. Eventually, the aliens are rounded up and installed in a ghetto, District 9.

Copy picture

Succumbing to mounting pressure, the Government hires a militaristic corporation to help relocate the ghetto to a more obscure geographical location. One Wikus Van De Merwe is assigned the task of co-ordinating the effort as he happens to be the CEO’s son-in-law. Soon he is knocking on doors and serving eviction notices to the “Prawns” as the aliens have become known. Unfortunately while executing his task, he suffers an unexpected accident which makes him re-evaluate his priorities.

Arriving without much fanfare but a cunning viral advertising campaign, District 9 is certainly one of the lowest key Summer blockbusters, but has more than made up for that with critical plaudits, audience raves and healthy box office.

We must hope the reason is that amid all the shallow bombast and glittery spectacle that has been the hallmark of the Summer’s releases, District 9 actually has some intelligence behind it and expects some in front of it, too. But the beauty of it is the film works on several levels.

Talk about picking off a painful scab, this is a South African film taking an allegorical look at apartheid. Yet, this is no preachy let’s all sit down and sing Kumbaya message – the situation is complicated. There are probably PhDs to be had from investigating the politics of this feature, not to mention psychoanalysing audience reaction.

All right, I didn’t go to the cinema to be preached at – and the movie doesn’t. Lurking at cross purposes with its pacifist anti-racist stance is a slam bang action film. Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp clearly likes his retro sci-fi and probably thrilled to the TV series, V and Alien Nation - I would like to think some Quatermass was in there too. All these things contribute, but Blomkamp manages his ingredients to create an original tale.

Sharlto Copley plays Wikus, and it takes us a while to realise he will be the focus of the film, we don’t recognise the actor and from his opening scenes he is clearly a plonker, and another joy here is that we go along with his journey.

A standing ovation is due to WETA’s special effects team, the CGI bits ‘n’ bobs that populate the film all have mass and look like they were on the film set – which helps sell the piece of course.

I have some carps, such as the obligatory shaky-cam news footage - but fortunately this is intercut with more traditional cinematography. The plot development that serves as Wikus’ wake-up call doesn’t really make sense and one of the aliens is a bit too cute. But that’s it. The sense of humour that pervades the project is very Paul Verhoeven but without becoming as comic book as that worthy’s oeuvre, but it does mean that the film is gross – from cat-food munching to human beings suddenly becoming purée – and the makers can count themselves lucky to have escaped with only a 15 certificate. A collection of loose ends (and loose beginnings, come to that) will ensure welcome sequels.

Particularly enjoyable as the summer movie season competition has been fairly rotten this year. This one deserves the accolades and will find resonance with anyone who opposes man’s inhumanity to… well anyone or anything really.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2009
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District 9 packshot
A government agent joins the cause of ghettoised aliens he has come to evict.
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Director: Neill Blomkamp

Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Elizabeth Mkandawie, John Summer, William Allen Young, Greg Melvill-Smith, Nick Blake, Morena Busa Sesatsa, Themba Nkosi, Mzwandile Nqoba, Barry Strydom, Jed Brophy, Louis Minnaar

Year: 2009

Runtime: 112 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Africa, New Zealand

Festivals:

AIM 2009

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