Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson’s District 9 is a totally satisfying monster movie. It’s probably the best action/sci-fi/monster film since The Host. Like that Korean indie favorite, District 9 is a post-modern attempt at bridging social issues with sci-fi scares, and it eventually gives up on the commentary in favor of exciting battles.
District 9, which is adapted from a short by Blomkamp, begins as a documentary about a shantytown in Johannesburg where mysterious extraterrestrials have been forced to live after crashing on Earth. Drawing obvious parallels to apartheid in South Africa, the film begins as an allegory centered around government worker Wikus Van De Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley), who is tasked to lead a mass eviction of a district populated by the aliens. Known as “prawns” (is this one of the first times middle America will know the rest of the world doesn’t call it “shrimp?”), the aliens live in total poverty and filth, seemingly unaware to save themselves and return to their home planet. Wikus is a nebbish, a timid civil servant married to his boss’ daughter, but he’s dedicated to his human cause and bears no patience for the prawns.
During the eviction, a freak accident occurs that leaves Wikus noticing a change in his DNA. I’ll stop with the plot summary right there, because entering this film without spoilers can’t hurt. Let’s just say that Wikus is forced to find the bigger man lying within his awkward exterior, and not to save the world, but to save his own life. That’s one of the great qualities of District 9: it’s not a saga about saving Earth, it’s really just about a desperate man wedged into a compromising situation. He wants to get his mundane life back, and is forced to fight off the aliens he’s worked to displace as well as his colleagues in government.
Once this aspect of the story is set into motion, District 9 is exhilirating, with the ingredients of a great sci-fi action film: big guns, big explosions, brisk editing, impressive effects, and a cliffhanger ending. Blomkamp develops on the promise of his short-form work, and Peter Jackson clearly influenced the film’s love of blood, guts, and tension. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. I would have loved to see more of the aliens vs. humans in society, like the smarter moments from the later Planet of the Apes films. Maybe we’ll get some of that in the sequel. And, yes, there will be a sequel. Not just because the ending leaves it open, but because you can expect District 9 to be a monster hit at the box office.