While built on elements from Alien Nation, Enemy Mine, and even David Cronenberg’s The Fly, District 9 transcends its inspirations by focusing on story, character, and the very human disregard for others until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) finally had it all. His hard work with the MNU (monitoring the welfare of alien refugees currently occupying District 9 in Johannesburg, South Africa) had apparently paid off, getting him noticed and promoted. Placed in charge of securing signatures for an mass eviction relocating the off-world occupants to a new facility, everything suddenly changes when Wikus accidentally comes into contact with a previously unknown alien technology. Finding himself on the run with his father-in-law poisoning his wife’s ear and former friends believing slander leaked to the media, Wikus has no choice but to seek refuge in the last place any human would want to.
Half shot in a faux documentary style intended to look like security footage and hand-held camera recordings, director Neill Blomkamp took care in pushing his principle special effects (the aliens themselves) into the background. This dismissal of the effect (emulating the way the humans treat the creatures themselves) also gives weight and realism to the creatures, and this is what the story is built on. There is no better word than “glee” to illustrate the carefree manner in which MNU workers treat their charges, barely regarding them as more than pests but unwilling to chance actual genocide in the event that they should suddenly become more useful. In the end, one human will understand that more than anyone.
Sharlto Copley is the barely-known actor charged with bringing the film’s pivotal character to life. With an arc that runs from mild-mannered manager and loving husband to fugitive and alien sympathizer, his performance is good enough to make the rest of the human cast look believably apathetic. Representing the very worst humanity can offer up, actor David James’ portrayal of Koobus Venter showcases the kind of person everyone turns to when no one knows what to do (as well as the last person you should give a gun to with full permission to use it in a delicate situation). Compared to these extremes, it’s a wonder why the aliens haven’t previously taken up arms against their human oppressors with nothing left to lose and only misery to look forward to.
Like any great science fiction, there are plenty of questions asked and mythology introduced in District 9 than answers or facts. While such information would have fleshed out our understanding of the aliens and the events leading up to this point, but none of it is especially relevant unless the Prawns (a slang term for the aliens used by the humans) come back for a sequel or two. If producer Peter Jackson is up to giving director Neill Blomkamp another go, at only $30 million plus advertising, a profitable outing at the box office is practically guaranteed. Realistic, compelling, and telling, District 9 should be mandatory viewing for, well, humans and aliens everywhere.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)