Netflix, now after years of success, has released an array of critically acclaimed films. Although it was not distributed by the online company, one of these successful movies that is now streaming and has maintained popularity over the last couple of weeks since its release is District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, let’s look at this this sci-fi story and review what works!
District 9 tells the story of an alien affairs officer and his attempt to relocate an extraterrestrial alien camp, located in Johannesburg, South Africa, to outside of the city. As things go from bad to worse for the naive but passionate Wikus van de Merwe, Wikus goes on a journey of what it means to live the life of a foreigner.
Early on, it’s apparent that District 9 technically succeeds with its well-executed visual effects as we see aliens appear on-screen. (This especially stood out to me when I saw the film nine years ago.) To add to this, the usage of news footage, handheld video recording, and rapid camera shots all convey a sense of chaos and urgency, as humanity cannot come to terms with an alien race that wishes to live in the same vicinity. Such filmmaking even goes so far as to include many fictional interviews of in-story experts, giving viewers the sense that this almost seems like a documentary.
Yet such a documentary, if it were one, would be quite grotesque. Whether it is someone experiencing a mutative process, severed animal heads, or people being blown to bits, District 9, like real-life warfare, is not for the faint of heart. It is for this reason, however, that I think District 9 is also a thematic achievement for cinema. These gritty examples, along with cool color tones, all convey the sense of hell that war really is. What adds to the potency is the fact that the film was released during the Iraq War, when the majority of deaths had already occurred.
Whether it’s a news report such as, “There was a terrorist attack, but everything is fine,” or musical overtones commonly heard in Arab contexts, the film is bold in sending a message that is against violence and weaponry, and one that is for peace, protection, and sympathy. Personally, I think any movie fails in some sense when anything is a bit too on the nose. District 9 in my opinion comes close to falling into such risk taking, while still remaining safe, due to the writing.
Thankfully, we get to see such a duality of peace and war, instead of being told that a war is going on and we need to either support it or be against it. Also on display that should be addressed is the acting of the main character, Wikus, and the transformation we see him go through from beginning to end. Regrettably, this is the area of the film I was a bit preoccupied with and thought suffered as a result.
South African actor Sharlto Copley had quite the task in playing Wikus. Without spoiling the film’s main progression, Copley does well to display great emotion. Yet at times in the story, his acting seems to veer into the realm of being melodramatic. Of course this is nothing unique to acting, simply something I thought deterred the film from being even greater than it already is.
District 9 is gripping, and it’s intense. For those interested in a story that may go down as a sci-fi classic in the future (if it already isn’t one and said sci-fi fan somehow hasn’t seen it yet), then you may love the film. There’s great thematic material and ample amounts of action to boot. For those wishing to stream something a bit more gentle this holiday season, may I advise that you steer clear of District 9.
Zimm Score (scored prior to viewing online scores for my amusement!): 8/10
Aggregate Critics’ Score on Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8/10 (not using percentage score)
Metacritic Score: 81/100