Creative Commons License

Aliens in the Backalley: District 9 Review

Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 04:02 PM EDT

Throw out everything you know about alien movies, especially everything you think you know about alien living amongst humans movies.

Ready? Genre pallet cleansed? Good.

District 9 is not your typical aliens-come-to-earth movie. It does not fit into any particular genre but rather creates a new genre unto itself. And it does so beautifully.

Helmed by Neil Blomkamp and based on his short film “Alive in Joburg”, it utilizes a very unique combination of styles to set the tone of the film and immediately immerse the viewer in a world that is both very similar and totally different from our own. Using a documentary style, including various talking heads both in the “present” and “historical footage” it sets us into this world where these alien life forms are living in detention camps similar to the townships used during the Apartheid (the allegory is strong, but not overpowering throughout the entire film).

The main protagonist is you will is a man named Wikus van de Merwe, a recently promoted bureaucrat for a multinational “humanitarian” corporation (on the side, they deal in munitions). As far as heroes go, he is far from one, neither big, buff or possessing much of a spine. His intelligence is middling, his desire to be self-serving is strong and he has no aspirations of equality for all species. In a nutshell, he’s not terribly sympathetic and when you realise that this is the guy that you will be ultimately rooting for, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. That’s it? Are we sure? Wasn’t it that other guy?

As Wikus and his story unfolds you watch him go from being bland to less likeable to more likeable in the spans of one film and the ending gives you exactly what you needed. Or at least exactly what I needed. I won’t say what that is for fear of ruining it for someone, but the overall sentiment as we reach the credits tells you that this is a character who has grown more in the three days covered by the film that he has in his entire life.

If you want someone to truly feel for, it would be Christopher Johnson. Intelligent and ultimately looking to both save his people and protect his son, he is a member of the slangly (and derogatorily) termed “prawns”. He understands his place in this society, that he must duck his head and make nice in order to fulfill the work of twenty years. His story is heartbreaking and it is the one you ultimately root for.

The shakeycam is used at its best and while there were moments where I felt my stomach turned it wasn’t due to the over-the-top gross out effects, but rather the same feeling I get when I watch too much Discovery Health channel. There is not an overload of history (the information that is given flows comfortably and fits in nicely to catch one up) to make one feel like they’re falling asleep.

This is a story of humanity, which seems an odd thing to say when humanity seems to be at its worst in this film. Those looking for fight scenes similar to the Predator films or Independence Day will be disappointed. This isn’t that sort of film. This is not the sort of film that ends in a blaze of glory, only for there to be a feeling of unease to settle over things. If you are feeling uneasy as you walk out, it’s because you are in the company of your fellow man and that is scarier than any mothership could ever be.

With a nearly two hour running time I can say one thing for certain without running the risk of giving anything away: you will never be bored and never be sneaking glances at your cell phone clock wishing to get out of there. It is worth ever penny. I swear.

- Lina