Like many films before, I had seen the trailer to District 9. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to witness when I stepped into Screen 5 to watch the entire film. Trust me, when I say that no amount of description can give justice to the story but I shall do my best anyway.
We are told the background as to how aliens ended up on Earth. It all started when an alien ship mysteriously appeared over Johannesburg in 1982. There was no contact with the aliens and the ship remained suspended in mid-air. The South African government eventually took the decision to cut into the ship where upon malnutritioned aliens were found. A refugee camp known as District 9 was set up to house them. However, what was originally supposed to be temporary accommodation became permanent as the aliens could not restart the mother ship. Today, the camp struggles to contain the 1 million inhabitants and riots between humans and aliens make the city a dangerous place. A private military organization known as Multi-National United (MNU for short) is tasked with forcibly moving the aliens to another camp 250 km outside of the city.
Throughout, we follow Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an average Joe who is promoted by his father-in-law to head up the relocation project. As he makes his way around District 9 handing out eviction notices, he is exposed to a substance which has damning consequences and leads to him to becoming a fugitive.
The first half of the film is told in a documentary style and in a totally believable fashion. Interviews with MNU employees and relatives, and news and surveillance footage is mashed together to set the tone of the film and create curiosity within the audience. Normal storytelling service is resumed when we get to the fateful moment when everything in Winkus Van De Merde’s life changed.
The central themes dealt with in the film are that of segregation and xenophobia. The aliens are left to live in squalor, and are known degradingly as “prawns”. The location of South Africa is also far from coincidental. Director Neill Blomkamp was born in Johannesburg during South African apartheid and he does an admirable job of tackling the subject. The film is bound to raise historical interest in the new generation as the treatment of the aliens is a clear metaphor for the way in which black South Africans were treated (you’ve probably seen some posters dotted around bus stops, billboards and phone boxes which signify that the areas are for “Humans Only”. These not so subtle marketing techniques are a clear nod to the signs incorporated during apartheid.)
What makes the film even more impressive is that it was made on a $30 million budget. Proof, if ever there was, that you don’t need $200 million to make a great film. The small budget means a great deal of effort went into producing a good story that will captivate the audience on substance. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t any money left over for there to be realistic CGI though — there is; there just isn’t two hours worth of explosions. That said, District 9 does have some extremely gory scenes and towards the end of the movie, the body count does pile up.
Watching District 9 is an experience that you will never forget. The film provides you with a rollercoaster ride of emotions from disgust to sadness to joy. It is certainly one of the best crafted and thought provoking films of the year. I look forward to the inevitable District 10.