District 9 the new film directed by Neill Blomkamp and written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell is a summer sci-fi blockbuster unlike any I have ever seen. Told in a documentary style that recalls last years breakthrough hit Cloverfiled, District 9 tells the story of the struggle to deal with an alien refugee camp in Johannesburg, South Africa. Having crash landed twenty years ago the aliens were found starving and delirious inside their ship, they have been living in a refugee camp slum and causing ever increasing tensions with the human populations in the area.
District 9 begins by following Multi-National United (MNU) employee Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who has been given a promotion, through family connections, to lead the effort to relocate the aliens to the new District 10 far outside the Johannesburg city limits. In early footage Wikus seems cheerful and excited about the task of getting the inhabitants, referred to as Prawns, to sign eviction notices. The light mood is contrasted by intercutting comments of family and colleague that ominously foreshadow events to come in the film.
From there we follow Wikus as he attempts to evict the Prawns in District 9, which has become a violent and dangerous slum. As the film progresses we delve deeper into both District 9 itself and the politics behind it. The Prawns have been increasing in population over the past two decades, which lead to the call for them to be relocated. After attempting to serve one of the eviction notices Wikus is injured and subsequently infected with alien DNA, which increases the tensions for him, and the situation in general as he become a man on the run.
The plot of the film is exciting enough on its own, but it takes on deeper meanings when viewed as symbolic of many other conflicts in the world today. It would be easy to dismiss it as just another “humans are the real monsters” type story, though that point is made quite clear. Viewed in the context of other cultures and populations that have been displaced though war, famine or disease District 9 takes on an emotional impact that is hugely uncommon in a summer blockbuster. Using aliens to represent the oppressed can allow filmmakers to address important humanitarian issues to an audience that might not seek out a film with such themes. Making the oppressors humans, for a change, forces the audience to see themselves in the villains of the piece and highlights the ethical issues involved.
Of course none of this would be possible if the movie itself weren’t so damn well made. The effects are tremendous! The special FX on the main Prawn, Christopher Johnson, are so well don . Short of Gollum himself I have never seen a more emotionally complex performance from an unreal creature The lowered budget special effects are completely unnoticed because of the documentary style of the filming. And what really makes the movie is the fantastic performance of Sharlto Copley as Wikus. From his dopey, bumbling opening scenes to his completely believe badassery at the end, he delivers. I could not believe how few previous credits he has considering he completely carries this movie in the acting department. For Copley alone District 9 is worth seeing. District 9 has finally made up for the fairly lame 2009 summer season by showing that movies still can be well made, deep and kick ass. Definitely one to check you.