District 9 Review
Traditionally a movie review will introduce the film in question, slowly consider the pros and cons of said film, and finally deliver its verdict. However, District 9 created such an impression on me that I simply have no alternative but to begin by saying the following: this is undoubtedly the best film I’ve seen all year, and in all probability is one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen ever. It provides a perfect mix of action, drama and horror, and is reminiscent of such genre greats as Aliens, Robocop and The Terminator. It is a masterpiece.
District 9 begins in brilliantly-authentic ‘mockumentary’ style, explaining how over twenty years ago a giant alien mothership – its occupants derogatorily referred to as ‘prawns’ due to their appearance – abruptly stopped over Johannesburg in South Africa. Out of fuel and severely malnourished, the million or so aliens on board were put into temporary accommodation in a series of shacks and cabins, which quickly devolved into a slum labelled – as you might have guessed – District 9.
The present story begins with Wikus van de Merwe, an awkward field operative assigned to lead an enormous alien relocation project by MNU, the private military contractor which has effectively taken charge of the aliens. As you might expect, things do not exactly go according to plan, and Wikus - who initially seems rather unlikeable and considerably out of his depth – makes a discovery that changes everything. To reveal any more would be to spoil the film, so I’m going to leave plot-specific details there. Trust me, the less you know about the film before going in, the better it will be.
Things are about to get very bad, very quickly.
What I love about District 9 is that it doesn’t play out remotely like you expect. For one thing, the aliens are probably the most realistic portrayal of extraterrestrial life (if such a thing is possible) you’ll ever see in a movie – neither bent on destroying the world or super kid-friendly, they – like us – can be violent, angry and stupid, rational and intelligent, territorial and emotionally expressive. One of the film’s greatest achievements is making us feel both repulsed by and extremely sympathetic with the aliens, which just goes to show how diverse they appear as a species.
District 9 also doesn’t play out like you expect as it initially presents itself as a tense, intelligent sci-fi drama with clear links to xenophobia and racism. While this is both what you expect and get, what you probably didn’t expect to get were some of the most hardcore, violent and visceral action scenes ever committed to film. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything here, but let it be known that this film has some of the coolest weaponry and machines I’ve ever seen in a film, and are put to constant – and extremely bloody – use. And when I say ‘extremely bloody’ I really mean it, as this film really pushes the 15 rating. Exploding bodies? Check. Dismemberment? Check. An unbelievably grim series of events involving fingernails and teeth? Check. If you’ve seen the film, that last line will make a lot more sense.
The film is also aided considerably by fine direction and superb acting. For the latter, newcomer Sharlto Copley is incredibly engaging in the lead role, as is the rest of the cast. For the former, everything looks and feels exactly right – the documentary elements segments look, well, exactly like real documentaries, and the action is expertly shot and framed. It seems somewhat depressing that Transformers 2, with all its whiz-bang effects and preposterously enormous budget, handled action embarrassingly – you had no idea what was going on and everything felt very, very artificial. By comparison, District 9 – with its relatively meagre budget of $30 million – is a revelation, as every single shot was easy to follow and made the whole film seem real, dangerous, and most of all intense.
And that, in essence, sums up District 9 in one word – intense. Because you believe what the film shows us and you believe the characters within it, not only do you care about the characters and worry about the danger they are constantly put in, you feel that danger too. Incidentally, this is one of the first films I strongly recommend despite it not actually being, in the strictest sense, fun – I certainly enjoyed it, but I felt unbearably tense during most of the film and left the cinema feeling emotionally drained, and haven’t been able to get the movie out of my head since seeing it. If you are even remotely interested in genuinely intelligent, decent cinema, this film will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. Intense indeed
This is the best film of the year.
Saying any more at this point would be an act in futility, so let’s cut to the chase – District 9 is a triumph, a film that feels both alien and fantastic, yet real and terrifying at the same time. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, and what the crew have done with a $30 million dollar budget is frankly astounding; the film looks and feels better than every single Hollywood blockbuster I have seen this year, even in regards to CGI.
District 9 is an expertly-crafted, genuinely superb film, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Tom's final verdict: 5 out of 5