Posted by: Dr P | September 25, 2009

District 9

One of the year’s most anticipated scifi flicks has finally arrived in the UK, and I was keen to catch it on opening weekend before I read too many spoilers. The movie has been garnering rave reviews across the Net and in the States, so it was with some excitement that Big G and I planned our trip.

And then disaster. A chance badly timed tackle, an upturned leg, and Big G is in hospital with a badly dislocated thumb and needing an operation! So with my faithful companion out of action, did I postpone the cinema trip? Did I balls! The lure of Ben and Jerry was too much to ignore, sorry Gareth!

OK, here’s the basic premise. A crippled alien ship arrived over Johannesburg in 1990. Having just sat there for a while, human forces boarded the craft to find approximately a million insect-like aliens in a badly malnourished state. With no means of leaving the planet, the aliens were placed in temporary housing just outside the city – “District 9”. 20 years later and the refuge has turned into a militarised ghetto, while the aliens are breeding rapidly, and also starting to turn aggressive against their human counterparts. In many ways it’s like Bolton, but without the nice cinema.

The story is superbly introduced in a documentary style series of clips. As we pick up the story, we are introduced to Wikus Van De Merwe, who works for Multi-National United, the main corporation involved in dealing with the aliens, now derogatively dubbed “prawns”. Due to the escalating issues, MNU are in charge of relocating the aliens to a new compound some distance away, and are serving eviction notices to the creatures. Wikus is leading the eviction squads, and is also looking for weapons caches and any sign of hostile intent.

During a raid on one property, Wikus uncovers a chemical lab and a canister of a mysterious liquid, which he inadvertently squirts in his face. This sets off a chain of events in which he starts to get all manner of horrid symptoms (shown in some detail) – vomiting, hair loss, his fingernails fall off, and then he starts to mutate … it’s gruesome stuff, and extremely harrowing for both Wikus, his friends and colleagues, and the audience. I liken it to getting Heat magazine and watching the total mess Lindsay Lohan is making of her life.

As the mutation increases, Wikus finds himself ostracised by the humans and takes refuge with 2 aliens he has befriended. They inform him that the liquid was designed to restore power to their spaceship and that he must retrieve the rest in order to be treated for his symptoms and to allow the aliens to depart …

This is an absolute corker of a film. If you forget the fact that the “aliens” are effectively human/insect cross-species, this is basically a study of apartheid, persecution and a look at the ghetto townships the world over – the aliens are treated cruelly, their rights are restricted, and the inevitable undercurrents of violence, arms deals, drugs etc are all present. Alongside this we see the complete physical and mental breakdown that Wikus goes through – his wife is ordered to leave him, he loses his job, and literally the whole world wants nothing to do with him … apart from hunt him down. I expect it’s how Kerry Katona must feel.

If this film doesn’t make you think about suffering and deprivation, nothing will. It’s also quite bloodthirsty – the alien weaponry on show is capable of reducing humans and aliens alike to a bloody mess, and this is prevalent throughout – humans are unable to work the weapons, but as Wikus mutates, he becomes able to wield the guns and is forced to use them against both alien and human in his struggle. Gory stuff.

The lead performance from Sharlto Copley is breathtaking – his early screen time as a bit of a geeky, overenthusiastic worker is terrific, we see an innate cruelty and racism in his actions, and then as he starts to suffer from his exposure to the liquid, his terror and mental torment are realised in a stark, vivid way. He must get some serious recognition for this performance – Oscar, anyone?

The director, Niall Blomkamp, oversees the film superbly – under the mentoring of Peter Jackson, this filmmaker has created a movie that will live long in the memory, and which has the capability to amuse, shock and captivate by turn. I can’t recommend it enough.

In a year of wonderful, wonderful films, this is right up there with The Wrestler and Slumdog Millionaire for me.


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