I’ve mentioned before how much I like “intelligent” sci-fi movies: in other words, ones which spend more effort on concept and story rather than just perfecting the CGI or blowing things up in cool ways. District 9 falls into the “intelligent” camp even though its concept is not the brain-twisting kind. Essentially, in the 80s a flying saucer parks itself above Johannesburg, South Africa where the humans and their government put the alien refugees into a ghetto (the titular District 9). Protagonist Wikus van der Merwe (yes, for us North Americans this movie is also an adventure in getting used to South African names) is assigned to spearhead the eviction/relocation of the almost 2 million insectoid aliens (nicknamed Prawns) to a concentration camp. However, Wikus gets more than he bargains for when he knocks on the door of some smarter-than-your-average Prawns and (to avoid spoilers), let just say that the plot is not the only thing that transforms (no, there are no autobots in this movie — not technically).
Firstly, there is a pretty gritty visual tone to the movie throughout. There’s lots of shaky, documentary-style cinematography. By the way, I was very impressed by the way that special effects could be worked seamlessly into those shaky shots. For example, the ship is always hovering over Johannesburg, so in any scenes that pan back to the Johannesburg skyline, the ship must always appear — and it did, flawlessly. Besides the camera-style, the violence and other scenes are also very visceral. The Prawns are very realistically depicted and they are not the only ones that can appear a bit gross. The people who get killed are never done cleanly. (Believe me when I say you will regret it if eat before seeing this movie.)
Sharlto Copley does a great job as the bureaucrat Wikus, with neat, flat hair and an earnest sweater-vest. His character begins as a content, well-mannered man who is put through the wringer in a matter of days. By the end of the experience he is absolutely not the same man he was at the beginning and Copley really expresses the fraying of his emotions and his building desperation in a very natural way (despite the completely extraordinary events of this film). I love the fact that we viewers are manipulated several times throughout the film on who we should root for.
I want to love this film unreservedly but I have to say that as well-done as this movie is, I don’t think I want to re-watch it any time soon. There were several times I covered my mouth in minor-disgust (though not because the movie was bad, but rather good) and the violence and gross-out factor is a bit too relentless. (4 out of 5)