Movie Review: District 9

I was sort of dreading going to see District 9 due to the summer factor mentioned previously with Orphan. But sci-fi isn’t the modern teen male proving ground that horror is, and it’s also generally more consistently loud, so I figured we’d brave it.

Not a stretch to say that it’s one of the best of the year. Interesting without that sort of self-important/self-conscious thought-provoking weightiness. It manages to walk the fine line between cynicism and nihilism, horror and dark comedy, and action-film with social commentary.

The premise (a la Alien Nation) is that a giant spaceship is hovering over Johannesburg. The ship is cracked open to discover a chaotic situation of aliens running around. The Prawns, as they’re nicknamed, end up being set up in a Joburg ghetto, where much degeneracy ensues.

Into this mess goes a South African by the name of Wikus, whose boss, the MultiNational United corporation, is under tremendous pressure to relocate the aliens to a happy fun-time camp 200 miles away. (Although I’d say this was neither a “left” nor “right” movie, there really is no reason for the MNU. It could just as well have been a government agency. And, let’s be honest: In any real situation, it would have been a government agency.)

Anyway, Wikus (pronounced like the plant, “Ficus”) gets into some trouble while trying to evict people, and ends up slowly mutating into a Prawn.

I know people are saying this is really original, but it’s almost hackery, isn’t it? Haven’t there been a dozen Star Trek episodes over various series that have done this? Isn’t it essentially Logan’s Run? Dances with Wolves? The premise of being forced to walk in your enemy’s mocassins, as it were. The one original story in The Twilight Zone Movie, and the one that seemed the tritest, perhaps not coincidentally.

No matter: This works because it is done expertly. The acting is excellent, and the transformation that Wikus goes through is really nuanced and interesting. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he’s cheerful and people seem to like him. So it’s jarring to see him do some of the things he does early on in the Prawn camp. We alternate between liking him and not liking him, throughout the movie.

Said movie being almost non-stop suspense. You never know who, if anyone, is going to survive. You don’t know when they’re gonna get it. The movie does come down to two central characters, but death is imminent for both throughout most of the movie—and they manage to get you to care, which is the chief bugaboo of action films.

There were half-a-dozen places the movie might’ve ended before it did. And things did get a little dodgy in the end, just from a practicality standpoint. However—and this is a credit to the story—I found myself engaging in apologetics to a degree. I could see how certain things that seemed far-fetched could happen, given other things that had been set up. (I don’t want to be specific, lest I spoil things.)

The camerawork is largely shakycam, though not as bad as, say, Rachel Getting Married or Cloverfield. Since it’s actually part documentary (in the film), I think it would’ve been more effective to go to a steadycam during the non-documentary scenes, but I didn’t really notice that much.

I’ve pointed out that the acting is good, and the effects are just right. The only time I felt like yelling out “CGI!” was with a young Prawn—and of course that would be difficult to do well. The ending is just right, too. You’re on the edge of the seat and you actually feel like you won’t mind the (inevitable) sequel.

The Boy gives his thumbs up.

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