REVIEW: District 9


112 Minutes // South Africa-New Zealand // Wingnut Films
dir. Neill Blomkamp
Sunday, August 16th, 2009 – Silvercity Brampton
starring: Sharlto Copely

The latest addition to alien films is Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 – a loose expansion of his 2005 short feature Alive in Joburg. Unlike every R rated extraterrestrial feature, this film doesn’t exploit the invaders and perpetuate them as all-knowing or superior, but rather opts to show the fine line between civilized and uncivilized.

Set in 2010, the story is a fictionalized account of aliens and their integration into the our society; more specifically South Africa. The story takes us through an apt, benevolent briefing about the origins of these creatures. This briefing educates its audience on what little we know about the aliens after twenty years, the segregation and intolerance humanity holds for these men and women of a different species – creating a derogatory term for them in “prawn” – and the inhumane conditions these aliens are forced to live in – a slum in South Africa ruled by the quick to shoot Nigerians.

It’s rare to see a new director tread from fundamentals in a widely acknowledged genre. Alien features have always attributed their success to making the focus of the feature (the aliens) into a pack of monsters that seek only to destroy humanity with their advanced weaponry and lack of concern for any situation that doesn’t allow them to impress upon themselves; prove their intelligence and pro-alien principle. In Neill Blomkamp’s first feature he manages to stray away from the expected and deposit a soulful sense of sorrow into what we view as the protagonists – the mistreated visitors.

Unlike past alien features like Alien or ET this film distinguishes itself by creating a sympathetic, if off-putting breed of aliens. Rather than concentrating on the intellectual purity that has been seen repetitively in similar sci-fi fiascoes, Blomkamp smoothly applies an unbiased tone to the feature. In addition to begin alien friendly, Blomkamp’s computer rendered eyes for the aliens are far more sympathetic than ferocious, embedding as effective an emotional punch through CGI as Wall-E did back in ’08.

Upon encountering the hovering spaceship the UN devised a group of officials to contain and nourish the unfortunate souls aboard that aircraft – all 1.8 million of them. As often shown when given absolute power over a nation (see: Nazi Germany) this film explores the exploitation of this humbled – now raging and decadent – species. With the MNU (the government appointed officials aforementioned) and Nigerian ruled pockets where the aliens are being contained causing for their dystrophy, we eventually come to sympathize for these solemn begins.

After the opening, the film commences with its focal point – the story of duly appointed MNU officer Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who has just been promoted to head the latest bill passed down from the UN; the movement of the aliens from their slums to an even more compacted area referred to as a concentration camp for aliens. Thrown in for dramatic tension are a few documented interviews from the people who were closest to Van De Merwe speaking mystically about the officer we’ve just come to meet. Claims that “he was a good man” and “he was just confused” all contribute to the adequate foreboding.

We then witness life behind the scenes – what most would call outtakes from your typical CNN broadcast. With minimal justification for his actions, Van De Merwe saunters around the slum using the least equitable tactics on the pensive begins to further their admission to what will be seen as their finalized segregation from the world. He approaches angered aliens and counts slapping the eviction document as a signature as well as other ignominious strategy that is more slimy than the mistreated creatures.

When the bumbling Van De Merwe accidentally sprays himself with an alien concoction that was brewed grimly in a scene prior, Wikus’ body begins to deteriorate. He begins to bleed, ooze black mucus, as well as lose teeth and finger nails regularly. Soon he’s forced to view life through a prawn’s perspective as his body begins to become alien. After an intensive study conducted by his former comrades – making him test out the formerly fallow alien technology and planning to harvest him for parts and research – Wikus abandons his duties and lives life on the run from MNU. He is yet to realize the follies within himself as a proud human, but cannot distract his now primal alien urges causing his conflict. We are meant to sympathize with him – a rugged romantic seeking a reunion with his loving wife, but how the film attempts to justify Wikus after the popcorn abortion scene is beyond. There are preposterous attempts at getting the audience to sympathize with him throughout the feature, but it is only after the final frame that I held any sort of compassion for our protagonist.


Time and time again, we see that not all the film is as well-intentioned as it’d like to be. Manipulation comes into play when we are shown to mistake the more prominent being as villainous, when he rather cherishes the life of himself and more so his son – an eager little scamp who only wants to see his home planet; a goal that the father, suitably renamed for an easier worldwide understanding, Christopher Johnson has been working on for years. We come to view him and his partner as biochemical terrorists from space, when in actuality that entire segment is just a formality created to solely mislead the viewer and to make them feel guilty for thinking otherwise. One of the few missteps in Blomkamp’s otherwise stimulating sci-fi flick.

Gradual tone shift that eventually devolves from a suspenseful first-hand account of the betrayal of of government’s as ambassadors to the universe to an efficient, action-packed final act. I use devolve solely because the wit that once imbued in the feature does go astray to fulfill the audience’s need for adrenaline. Although the tone does switch every so often, the focus is consistent in begin a character study of a man’s life gone array.

Even lacking in luminosity the final action-packed act is laudable. I’m astounded at how Blomkamp was able to create a riveting and consistently enthralling 30 minute action sequence with a measly 30 million dollar budget (measly by today’s standards). With the coruscation shown in the excitably violent scenes, there is no doubt that Neill Blomkamp will be able to one day create a refined sci-fi feature that redefines the genre as we know it. This is not the film that will do, but rest assured that it will only get better from here on out. [8/10]

One thought on “REVIEW: District 9

  1. Holeigh says:

    Nice review, Tyler. I thought you’d be over the moon about this, as so many seem to be right now, haha, but I actually found myself agreeing with 95% of what you said. I don’t think I’d give it an 8, probably a 7, but it was certainly very ambitious, given the experience of the director and his budget. I wasn’t so crazy about the last act, I thought it became very typical of an action film (why won’t that bald guy just die already?, could it take any longer for the small ship to rejoin the mothership?, etc.) and some of the stunts got very repetitive. I agree that Wikus was a very unsympathetic character for most of the film, but I thought that Copely did a brilliant job, escalating his performance from a geeky background character to full on action hero, all without being anything close to a household name. My favorite character was probably the little alien child, hehe. Toward the end, I hoped for more of him trying to fix the ship, just to break up all the action.

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