Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut is one half chilling dystopian sci-fi flick and one-half derivative summer action movie. Seemingly that has resulted in the golden combination of critical acclaim and the proverbial phat cash. To my mind, it's an entertaining, intelligent flick that stops just short of greatness in its final thirty minutes.
The premise is brilliant. When aliens arrive, they don't invade America but hover over Jo'burg, sick and malnourished. Eventually humans cut their way into the spaceship and offer the aliens refugee status, keeping them holed up in a ghetto called District 9. The aliens are denigrated as "Prawns", scammed by Nigerians, harrassed by mercenaries and oppressed by a fascist government. Think South Africa during the apartheid regime, or the refugees at Sangatte. We see all this through documentary footage of a particularly small-minded pen-pusher called Wikus Van De Merwe. Wikus is the kind of officious bastard who gets off on enforcing the law to the nth degree. Even when he's contaminated by alien bio-fuel and starts mutating, and in sheer desperation hides out in an alien underground workshop, he still talks about statute violations.
I love the fake-documentary footage that intersperses the film - from vox-pops to CCTV. I love the brilliant re-casting of the refugee experience as an alien sci-fi flick. I love Sharlto Copley's performance as Wikus. And I really love the fact that his development, from Prawn-hating tyrant to sympathetic mutant-on-the-run, is slow and credible. You don't just have a change of heart because you are oozing alien puss! I got a lot less interested in this flick when it turned into a derivative buddy movie full of hammy dialogue and technically brilliant but uninvolving explosions. It's a shame Neill Blomkamp couldn't have held his nerve, and turned in a dystopian horror as consistently gripping as CHILDREN OF MEN. But for all that, I can't deny that I'm excited at the prospect of DISTRICT 10!
DISTRICT 9 was released earlier in August in the US, Australia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, Canada, Estonia, Indonesia and Denmark. It opens next weekend in the Philippines, Finland, Latvia, Mexico, South Africa and Sweden. It opens on September 4th in the UK, Bulgaria, and Venezuela. It opens later in September in France, Switzerland, Spain, Iceland, Argentina, Portugal and Belgium. It opens in October in Italy, Romania, Turkey, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, Norway, Brazil and Colombia.