“I just want everyone to learn from what has happened.”
The term ‘illegal alien’ takes on a whole new meaning in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9. Indeed the writer/director’s feature debut is a provocative parable of segregationist South Africa, which should also resonate a little too close for comfort with refugee politics across the Western world.
Expanding upon his low-budget mockumentary Alive in Jo’burg, Blomkamp unveils a near-future Johannesburg, over which an enormous, extra-terrestrial vessel ominously hovers; its inhabitants penned into the slum of District 9 for some 20 years. With containment, escalating violence and public exasperation now pressing issues, private contracting firm Multi-National United (MNU) moves in to clear the ‘prawns’ out.
Sprightly bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) heads the eviction team, while also taking along a corporate video crew to record proceedings. Wikus’ jocular introduction and earnest antics are warmly reminiscent of The Office’s David Brent, however when the eviction goes awry, Shaun of the Dead by way of Aliens and Iron Man spring to mind.
Of course the roles are thoroughly reversed on the hapless Wikus, and Copley switches gears with convincing fallibility. Indeed Copley does an outstanding job shouldering this film, with the aid of Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s incisive characterisation; they effectively reframe the ‘unlikely hero’ within this xenophobic dystopia.
Trent Opaloch’s dynamic cinematography visually crafts District 9. An ingenious blend of mockumentary, CCTV, and archival news footage, Opaloch and editor Julian Clarke achieve a fine balance in their treatment of the fourth wall. The mind-blowing action (pun intended) certainly benefits from this documentary aesthetic, the filmmakers entirely unafraid of getting their lenses dirty.
District 9 is an absolutely cracking cinematic experience. Peter Jackson may be presenting this film, but patrons are unlikely to forget Blomkamp’s explosive debut.4/5
This review also appeared in The Brag
Australian release date: 13 August 2009