Movie Review: District 9

By Matthew Huntley

August 25, 2009

On Earth, no one can hear you scream.

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District 9 is full of dazzling and promising ideas, but the filmmakers only allow them to partially break through an otherwise action-movie exterior. Up until the end of the first act, the possibilities for this film seemed endless and it sped along with high energy, gritty effects and skillful storytelling. But once the actual plot kicked in, the filmmakers settled on a trajectory that was safer than they initially promised.

The film starts out as a lively social commentary and bleak metaphor but slowly descends into a traditional action picture. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the action scenes are executed so well, but I would have preferred the filmmakers stayed their original course and fleshed out their higher concepts. That might have made District 9 a masterpiece. As it is, it's still very good.

What an intriguing idea for a movie: aliens have come to Earth and humans are containing them in a walled off section called District 9. Twenty-eight years ago, the aliens' mother ship parked above Johannesburg, South Africa, where it continued to hover. When humans made first contact, they found the aliens inside the ship to be malnourished and stumbling aimlessly. It seems they came to our planet seeking aid and the movie presents this as a realistic possibility. The film's events are told to us in flashback, much as a documentary news story, which the filmmakers cleverly use to bring us up to speed on the current situation instead of going for forced exposition.


We learn Humans lent their help to the creatures by providing them food, supplies and health care, but as time went by, District 9 grew too large to maintain. It was fenced off with barbed wire and quickly became militarized. Eventually, it turned into a polluted slum ridden with gangs, prostitutes and black market dealers. Soon, the aliens began rioting, looting and attacking people, which is where MNU (Multi-National United) came in, a billion-dollar organization that responded to the public outcry to move the aliens away from Johannesburg and into District 10, where the same problems would occur all over again, but at least they would be away from the city.

The man chosen to oversee the eviction project was Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a jolly but clumsy fellow too inexperienced for the job, but lucky for him he was the son in-law of MNU's president. The mission went awry after Wikus came upon a mysterious canister that exploded chemicals in his face, causing him to vomit and bleed a black substance. Wikus suspected the alien hiding the canister, Christopher, and his young son, were up to something, especially with all the human technology they had hanging up in their shack. After he finds out the truth, Christopher became Wikus' only hope.

For what, I cannot say. And if you want to be as surprised and enthralled by this movie as I was, you'll stop researching it until after you see it. Refrain from looking it up on IMDb or Wikipedia because studio has concocted an ingenious marketing campaign to build curiosity and intrigue. And for once, the trailer doesn't give away any crucial plot details. Surely director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson wanted to keep it a surprise. The film stems from Blomkamp's short film, Alive in Joburg, and he obviously sees parallels between District 9 and our own world. The movie has given him a creative outlet that's both emotional and entertaining.

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