Tuesday, September 15, 2009

District 9 (2009)

We're used to alien stories, but this one is different. It's set in a refugee camp called District 9 in South Africa. Here, the Prawns (named so for their resemblance to crustaceans) have been housed after being "rescued" from their alien ship, after it hovered motionless over Johannesburg for three months.

The eerily likable Christopher Johnson

(Spoiler Alert: Read at Your Own Risk!)

Fast forward 20 years. The Prawns are still living in D9. They spend their days foraging through trash, searching for cat food and forging a life among gun-toting gang lords. Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a government employee/case manager has worked helping the aliens integrate. Through an act of nepotism, Wikus gets promoted. He's now charged with evicting the Prawns from D9, in an effort to clean up the neighborhood. It is during this effort that he is contaminated by a dark fluid (we don't know exactly what) and his transformation to Prawn begins. After Wikus becomes a lab project, he escapes, enlisting the help of Christopher Johnson (the hilarious name of the intelligent and sharp Prawn he tried to evict) and Johnson's charming son.

Told in documentary style with a mostly unknown cast gives the original concept authenticity. Add to that the excellent acting chops of our protagonist (who's introduced as a bumbling office drone you care little about, becomes dislikable, turns sympathetic then cowardly, until finally he grows a pair, redeems himself and you can't help root for him). However, the real beauty of this movie is in the CGI-ed Prawns and how realistically they move, how well they're developed and how realistically they interact with the humans. Wikus and Christopher become the unlikely ass-kickin' duo.

The hand-held camera adds to the realism and suspense but will likely make you nauseous (a la Blair Witch project style)...that and the frequent oozing of abrasions; heads, limbs and bodies being shot; fingernails being yanked off; teeth falling out; and constant blood splattering. The movie lasts nearly two hours and you are dragged through the gory story, left contemplative and wondering what if? With obvious parallels to Apartheid and segregation, District 9 ends, ready for a definite sequel--leaving much unanswered and many angles ripe for exploration.

Co-writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp

Country: South Africa

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 4.5

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