Under the guiding hand of producer Peter Jackson, South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp has expanded his 2005 Alive In Joberg short to feature length for this dazzling sci-fi thriller. Set in 2010, District 9 takes place on an alternate-reality earth where a lizard-like alien race known as ‘prawns’ have arrived only to find themselves decanted by the sinister Multi National United agency into camp-like shanty-towns on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Blomkamp’s film focuses on MNU operative Wilkus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who is given a nepotistic promotion to help security forces move the reluctant aliens into camps. His prissy enthusiasm fails to disguise his own inherent racism towards the ‘prawns’, who are marginalised from society and cruelly described as ‘bottom-feeders’, but his attitude soon changes when a canister of alien goo starts to transform him into a prawn.
District 9’s admirably edgy, satirical tone is well matched by Blomkamp’s dynamic shooting style, using Cloverfield-style video footage to achieve a powerful you-are-there feel. Not since Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers have stark, political messages and sci-fi splatter action been so comfortably balanced, with the result managing to be at once a moving paean to the importance of human rights and a crowd-pleasing rollercoaster ride featuring Transformers-style effects. The parallels between District 9’s alien invasion and the real-life problems of post-apartheid South Africa are hammered home with impressive force, and Blomkamps’ message, that it’s the abuse of power which creates the real monsters, hits home with shrapnel ferocity.
General release from Fri 4 Sep.