The highly popular District 9 is a movie produced by Peter Jackson and it shows. More than once during this film I had to think of Jackson’s origins as a filmmaker. Bad Taste, Jackson’s debut, was a highly entertaining exercise in comedy gore. And right after his first ‘proper’ film (the drama Heavenly Creatures) Jackson directed the mockumentary Forgotten Silver that would trick thousands of viewers into thinking pioneer director Colin MacKenzie actually had existed.
But now Jackson gave the director’s chair to Neill Blomkamp and took a producer’s role. But District 9 proves Blomkamp has watched Jackson’s older movies. District 9 allegedly chronicles what has happened since the moment an alien spaceship hovered over Johannesburg. The aliens, who have been given the derogatory name ‘prawns’, were in bad shape and were placed in District 9, a ghetto for aliens. Given the growing tensions between the humans and non-humans the government finally decided to relocate the aliens to a new district outside of Johannesburg.
The man who’s chosen to lead this operation is Wikus Van Der Merwe, a character that seems to have escaped from cringe comedy like The Office. Wikus and his team need to go to District 9, gather signatures from the ‘prawns’ claiming they’re okay with the subsequent move and, while they’re at it, find a couple of rogue aliens who’ve been involved in several fraud schemes. Hey, we’d told you District 9 was a ghetto. There’s even a bunch of Nigerian gangs, mind you.
Well, guess what, things don’t go exactly as planned and Wikus accidently uncovers an alien plan to leave the planet. Sadly, he doesn’t realize this and opens a canister with the fluid necessary to launch the ship. At first, the substance only seems to make Wikus sick, but after a while Wikus discovers the fluid slowly turns him into an alien. Not that great because now both the aliens and government are on his tail, the former to get their fluid back and the latter to experiment on this unique hybrid.
District 9 starts off as a documentary on the subject with interviewees talking about the (apparently deceased) Wikus. Once Wikus enters District 9 the film suddenly can’t seem to make its mind up anymore: sometimes it pretends to be a documentary and sometimes it’s a regular movie. It’s not the only time District 9 demands a lot from your suspension of disbelief: early on in the film we’re being told the aliens have been amongst us for several years now, but nowhere was the movie able to convince me twenty years had passed.
These reservations aside, District 9 manages to entertain you on the same level as Jackson’s early movies, constantly shifting from comedy to horrific bits. The film also gives nods to other well-known horror movies, especially Cronenberg‘s version of The Fly.
The CGI aliens look good in as much as they don’t try to look state-of-the-art. Instead, they look a bit dodgy and all the more convincing. Speaking of which, all the aliens were voiced by one person, so Jason Cope should deserve a special mention.
That the film takes place in Johannesburg isn’t just because director Blomkamp is from South-Africa. The way the aliens are treated can only make you think of the South-Africa of not too long ago, with its system of Apartheid. We’ve said this before: over here we like it when movies use a horror scenario to talk about real life. District 9 manages to talk about the townships in a completely different but equally effective way from movies like Tsotsi.
What a shame then that District 9 doesn’t really know how to behave. Had it be more consistent in its form (as either a faux-documentary or a regular movie) it would’ve been one of the most remarkable films of the year. Now we’ll just stick the label ‘good’ to it.