Saturday, 5 September 2009

District 9

A vast interstellar spacecraft shores up in Johannesburg's airspace. Elation quickly turns to disgust when it is discovered that the passengers are a displaced extraterrestrial slave caste. Despised by locals, and lacking in any usable tech or currency, the aliens are corralled into slums and left to rot. This instant underclass eke out a subsistence existence for a few decades until a vile weapons contractor wins a relocation bid. Sharlto Copley's meek middle-manager Wikus van de Merwe leads the resettling operation, a process that begins as an exasperated hoodwink before fear transforms it into something closer to ethnic cleansing. During one particularly aggravated eviction Wikus accidentally ingests an alien aerosol, his subsequent recalibration making him the focus of a city wide manhunt.

Alternating between an in-progress documentary and a blackly comedic identity thriller, Neill Blomkamp's District 9 neatly combines speculative colonial dystopia with cobble-tech catastrophe pistols. Junior effects studio Image Engine have crafted a whole race of minutely expressive visitors. The Prawns are a solid physical presence in this universe, effortlessly interacting with their human oppressors. There's an agreeable sense of other in the creature's scaled-up, insect quick, limb-ticks. A recognisable sentience resides in their sad brown eyes. There's even a hint of shame in their threadbare, scrap clothing. District 9 is a perfect piece of genre fiction, the kind of film that used to haunt late night scheduling on BBC 2 or Channel 4, daring you to stay up later. I can offer no higher praise.

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