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District 9 Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 04 September 2009 11:39
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copey
Certificate: 15
Trailers / Clips

Aliens have landed. Not in New York. Not in Washington. But over Johannesburg. It’s a strange quirk for a sci-fi film, but this is a strange quirky film – born out of the failure of Halo, it’s the first feature for Neil Blomkamp, backed by Peter Jackson. The result is a definite dusting down of the genre.

With thousands of immigrant aliens running rampant, the government’s response is rational: segregate them from society in a non-human slum. District 9 is born. Second rate citizens with an insectoid appearance, the humans soon dub them “prawns”. The action picks up with a forced eviction of the prawns by shadowy organisation Multi-National United (MNU), shipping them out to a new concentration camp, District 10.

Led by promoted paper-pusher Wikus Van der Merwe (Copey), the team enter District 9 armed with clipboards and helicopters. Communicating with clicks, grunts and guns they interact with the prawns in a brilliantly believable way, threatening, ordering and bribing them with cat food. But while behind immigrant lines, the wonderfully pathetic Wikus gets some goo in his face. As the infection spreads through his body, he enters Fly-mode, transforming into a prawn-human Brundle beast with a delightful nastiness. His eyes change, he drips black blood, and (of course) his fingernails fall off. Eww.

Combining lo-fi prosthetics with some spot-on CGI, District 9 is a visual feast. Using handheld cameras, the guerrilla take on events gives the gore a real graphic edge; when people explode, you really believe they explode. Chopping up news footage, talking heads and a more standard Hollywood style, the overall effect is perhaps disjointed – we start seeing things from MNU’s perspective, but the logo soon disappears as the narrative device is dropped. Shaky filming then starts a more subtle job of showing events, rather than telling them.

Any inconsistency is soon irrelevant in the deluge of drama and action. As prawn Christopher Johnson helps Wikus win his life back, you stop noticing the presentational glitches. You even take the creatures’ very existence for granted. By the time the videogame-like fragging starts, you’re utterly hooked. District 9 is one hell of an immersive experience.

That’s not to say it’s without substance. Playing upon South Africa’s apartheid, Neil Blomkamp’s debut deals with the issue effectively, letting it hang in the background like the looming mothership. There are some strange elements, such as the ghetto’s black voodoo king (whose English is subtitled), not to mention all the soldiers looking like the South African Bruce Willis, but it all adds to the questioning character of Blomkamp’s piece. The satirical insight may not be mind-blowing (it’s mercifully not over-stated) but it adds a level of tension missing from the streets of Manhattan. At home in its unusual location, this low budget production is a unique slice of South African entertainment.


Intelligent, spectacular and packed with exploding humans, District 9 is a distinct and dynamic bit of sci-fi. Dazzling stuff.







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