The central idea for District 9 is a compelling one and once you’ve invested yourself into the initial scenario, you will find a story which is interesting and creative. Neill Blomkamp creates a South Africa that has been invaded by aliens but rather than a science-fiction, war movie, the aliens are treated like second class citizens, living in slums and being forcibly rehoused.
Setting this in Blomkamp’s native South Africa and dealing with “second-class citizens,” slums and immigration-style officers is not a happy coincidence. This is a thinly veiled metaphor for the way some aspects of society, particularly in South Africa, are treated unfairly. The decision to use science-fiction is a good one though and offers a range of possibilities that Blomkamp explores very well.
The best science-fiction creates worlds, even in familiar terrain, and there is a whole world created here. The slum gives the impression of a long-term, terrible situation, the make-shift problem-solving tells a range of their own stories and seeing the aliens (derogatively called “prawns”) wearing human clothes and trying to adapt to life on an unaccepting earth makes this a world you want to explore further. There are hints at wider stories and it feels like District 9 could just be a chapter in a wider universe.
This chapter concerns Sharlto Copley’s Wikus Van Der Merwe who has been tasked by the big, faceless corporation he works for to rehouse the aliens. We see the aliens from a prejudice view and Wikus is as slimy a villain as can be. The documentary style that is used for the opening act is a clever one, bringing an realistic tone to the movie and Copley excels here as he treats the aliens in a horrendous fashion.
Copley is certainly the villain in the first act but this is a film about what happens when you are forced to face the prejudice you have participated in and Wikus, using the science-fiction trope effectively, becomes the very thing he is working against. To see the villain become the desperate hero is satisfying and this particular character arc is well written, garnering sympathy for a man who struggles to deserve it from the first act.
As inventive as the film is, the final act struggles to maintain this and Blomkamp is forced to tread a familiar science-fiction route. It becomes more of an action movie rather than the prejudice allegory it began as but enough seeds have been sown in the early parts of the movie that this works. You are invested in the characters by this point and the action is staged well enough that it remains exciting, if somewhat generic towards the end.
Overall, District 9 is a lesson in how to create a world in the familiar. There are clear rules, inventive design and a scenario which grips from the beginning. Copley’s villain turn hero is great and you are rooting for his story to work. The ending feels slightly generic compared to what went before but you are invested throughout.
Rating – 4
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