Welcome to District 9, an alien slum within Johannesburg where voodoo gangsters consume extraterrestrial flesh, cat food is the ultimate commodity and a monolithic spaceship hovers motionless in the sky.
This is the brilliant, chimerical creation of Neil Blomkamp, a twenty something, South African born director and technical wizard. Nurtured by film making veteran Peter Jackson, Blomkamp has been able to bring his exciting and unique vision to life.
In 1982 an alien spaceship breaks-down over Johannesburg. The aliens inside are found lost, confused and desperately malnourished. Whilst the human government debates what to do with them, they are filtered into a refugee camp. Soon enough the camp becomes unruly, the military are forced to take control and it develops into a slum.
Nearly thirty years later we (and a documentary crew) follow the exploits of MNU (that’s, The Malevolently Nefarious United) employee, Wikus Van De Merwe as he heads an operation to evict the stranded aliens to an out of the way concentration camp. This is where it gets ugly…
As the film progresses we watch our scatterbrained protagonist lie, cheat and threaten his way through a series of tense and unnerving situations. Wikus squeals with sickening delight as he discovers a shack full of alien eggs. He proceeds to disconnect the incubation equipment causing the embryos to let forth a series of blood curdling screams. Handing a piece of tubing to his colleague, he calls it a ‘souvenir from your first abortion’ they laugh, we gasp. Wikus is not a good man, he is a by the book crony who desperately needs to grow a pair. But we are not allowed to hate him for long as his mind and body are fundamentally changed forever.
Near the half way point the film takes a turn for the absolutely bat s**t mental. Gone is the ultra real docu style of the opening, instead we are introduced to a decidedly cartoonish series of events as Wikus is sprayed with an alien substance causing a slow and painful metamorphosis. His fingernails rot, his teeth fall out and a hard, alien shell bursts through his frail, human flesh. This gradual transformation isolates him from the society he once knew. Now seen as a hugely valuable commodity, he ends up having to befriend an alien he once sought to evict. Such delicious irony!
Blomkamp fills his world with an abundance of detail, but he crams far too much of it into the first hour causing the final action packed hour (which features a redeemed Wikus in a Cameronesque mech suit) to appear disappointingly shallow. However this is not to say that the film ceases to be enjoyable, far from it, it’s a wonderful, bloody mess (literally)! People explode like fireworks of gore, their viscera spraying off in all directions covering the camera in a thick, crimson paste. Hilarious splatstick violence such as this is specifically directed at the human beings. The violence inflicted upon the aliens is systematically uncomfortable, dehumanising the human presence. Dare I say it again!?…Oh yes, what DELICIOUSLY irony!
District 9 is a fantastic film; it is almost certainly one of the greatest sci-fi action movies to have hit the big screen since Terminator 2. Where its problems lie is in the unashamedly silly second half where it seems to run out of new ideas, instead opting for straight forward action, looney toons violence and Dickensian villains. However, these are all minor missteps as the film never ceases to be at the least, entertaining. District 9 ends with another highly intriguing premise, one that could certainly be drawn out to construct a formidable sequel. Bring on District 10 I say!
Additional film information: District 9 (2009)