Sci-fi thriller sometimes plays like a political documentary
4/5 Dir Neill Blomkamp US (18+) When the aliens finally do arrive in their metal ships, perhaps they’ll hang like a swollen metaphor over Johannesburg. District 9 takes this ominous spectacle and weds it to a grungy fable about humankind’s ugliness to its guests. The sci-fi thriller sometimes plays like a political documentary, other times like the gruesomely dark gems of the ’80s: think Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Behind it all is executive producer and hobbit master Peter Jackson, who obviously can’t say goodbye to his blood-spattered genre roots (that’s a good thing).
The movie’s creatures, rendered with insectoid precision and derisively called ‘prawns’ by the white characters, are ghettoised in a Soweto-like township. There, we learn, they’ve languished on cat food for three decades. When Wikus (Sharlto Copley), an unctuous government stooge, is tasked with forcibly relocating the aliens to another site, the movie quickly attains a scary, enervating tension from which it never quite modulates. Our unlikeable main character is sprayed in the face with black goop and begins evolving, turning him into a valuable bioweapon.
District 9 has too many gory vaporisations to qualify as a serious statement on race relations, but it does outclank Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by a wide margin, and the cleanly cut action sequences are thrilling. A gang of cannibalistic Nigerians is unfortunate, but Neill Blomkamp, mounting his first feature, is taking on more real-world drama than future schlock generally allows. Joshua Rothkopf