District 9 (***)
District 9, the first-ever feature film from director Neill Blomkamp, is stunning, powerful movie that is equal parts sci-fi, horror and drama, all wrapped into a chaotic modern-day allegory that, if consumed correctly by a savvy viewer, should not only entertain, but cause one to pause and consider how we treat our fellow human beings, especially the ones who look, talk and think differently than we do. It is without a doubt one of the best films of the year and the crown jewel in a summer that has been fairly lackluster.
Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the story of District 9 is told in a documentary, mixed-media fashion that, surprisingly, flows remarkably well and lends an air of believability in an otherwise extravagant slice of storytelling. The gist, the set-up, is this: a horde of cockroach/crustacean-looking aliens arrived on earth 28 years prior to the movie’s opening and their massive mothership simply hovered above Johannesburg until crews opened the hull and found these refugees sick, malnourished and seemingly abandoned. Politicians, like normal, bickered and argued about how to proceed, and in the interim, the aliens, referred to derogatorily as “prawns,” were placed in a makeshift camp called District 9, reportedly not unlike the real District 6 in Cape Town, South Africa during the 1970s apartheid.
Fast forward to our current day and age and the alien spacecraft is still hovering like an extraterrestrial smog over Johannesburg, one that is increasingly irritating given the sheer volume of aliens living in District 9 and the amount of lawlessness and disorder existing inside the disheveled, trash-strewn confines of the settlement. Hence the “alien relocation project” has been handed over to a group called Multi-National United (MNU) and its top field agent, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). The goal on the outside is to provide a better living area for the interstellar immigrants, but as we come to find out, MNU has other plans, specifically involving the alien’s hi-tech weaponry.
The entire opening of the movie is spliced together from news footage, interviews and security camera recordings and, as Wikus and his MNU colleagues proceed to serve eviction notices to the “prawns,” we really get sucked into feeling this is all very real, especially when it comes to the hate, loathing and overall disgust with which humans look upon these cat-food-loving creatures, who, despite their grotesque appearances, aren’t really that different of an intelligence than humans. And this is further intensified as Wikus, while investigating one of the alien’s shacks, inadvertently sprays some black “fuel” in his face and soon is transforming into, and helping, the very thing he loathes the most. And that’s when Blomkamp ratchets up the action, tension and emotionality of the story into a frantic, gory pace. My butt cheeks still haven’t come unclenched.
Bottom line is this – Neill Blomkamp, once discounted and disbelieved by critics who said he couldn’t manage a Halo movie because he’d never handled anything but short films and commercials, has proven himself an adept director and a creative storyteller. District 9 is a thought-provoking, action-filled movie with seamless, elegant CGI effects and superb acting from Sharlto Copley. The movie, while not the unstoppable force some have claimed, is easily worth the full-price ticket at the theater this weekend.
Not that you’d take your kids to a extraordinarily violent and gory movie, but if you need proof, check out the content on Kids-in-Mind.com.