Sharlto Copley (soon to be seen as Howling Mad Murdock in the A-Team reboot) gives a career-making turn as a bumbling bureaucrat given the job of serving eviction notices on the prawns. The routine day turns nasty when an alien phial of black goo squirts him in the face. Sparking the discovery of the key to alien weaponry, it reveals sinister government forces. And man and prawn are soon thrown together in a race for survival.
Tongue-in-cheek actioner District 9 riffs on the racial undercurrents of South Africa. Not cheapening the issues, this is entertainment of the highest order. From the documentary intercuts from the friends and colleagues of Copley’s bureaucrat, we know something went wrong. What it was and how it works out is the heart of this belting thriller.
Amazing alien effects and high groo-quotient, make this a queasily funny horror. Step forward Peter Jackson (Braindead, Lord of the Rings) who shepherded South African director Neill Blomkamp’s film into being. But Blomkamp’s original script and energetic direction steer a path through cliché and comparisons.
Brazenly shooting in daylight, Blomkamp’s action and alien effects are all the more impressive. No dark corridors (as in Aliens) or the now-cliched quick-cutting camerawork. Shot on shanty-town sets and rubble-strewn camps, it’s got a texture all its own. More akin to Black Hawk Down – with added splurge and humour.
Tapping in to the humanity and alienation of being an alien – and a human – District 9 is hotwired drama. Copley’s central performance – looking like a beardy Steve Carell in the American Office – is winningly comic, then keenly tragic. A flip film, its comedy and propensity to upend expectations keeps things edgy and edge-of-seat.
Adding new meaning to nail-biting, the queasy effects are convincing. Look-away moments are more about body-goo than violence. And the action is stunning. Squishy in places but not dwelt on. Fast-paced and vibrant, District 9 is a hip, media-savvy movie.
Showing Transformers and all other blockbusters how it’s done, low-budget District 9 is a sci-fi actioner with heart and mind, engaging on many levels.
Some films stay with you. District 9 is likely to be one. Striking a new note in sci-fi, its edgy-authenticity is impressive. And the final shot is truly affecting.