Movie: District 9
Production Companies: QED International, WingNut Films, TriStar Pictures
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Producers: Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunnigham
Scriptwriters: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Main Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Vanessa Haywood
Release Date: September 4th 2009 (UK)
Running Time: 112 minutes
I don’t remember this version of District 9 from the Hunger Games…. Corny segue aside, I’m definitely not reviewing this because I watched it in a uni lecture. Anyway, Neill Blomkamp’s feature film debut is an incredible watch. It seamlessly fuses a lot of different genres and styles together. All with the common theme of the horrors of apartheid. Now that’s impressive especially considering how Blomkamp couldn’t really reach the same heights again. Anyway, let’s get into my retro review of the film now.
District 9 follows Wikus Van Der Merwe (Copley), a bureaucrat for a mysterious government organisation called MNU. He is initially tasked with moving the alien population within District 9 to a new site. However, an encounter with an alien, Christopher Johnson, and a mysterious fuel cell sees Wikus slowly mutating into an alien. Slowly but surely, Wikus enters an uneasy alliance with Christopher to help the latter escape District 9 with his son and the former to be cured. However, MNU will stop at nothing to retrieve Wikus who they believe is a valuable asset in their weapons development program leading to a massive manhunt for the unlikely heroes.
Different Filmmaking Styles in District 9
There doesn’t feel like a better place to start than discussing how the film incorporates multiple genres and methods of filmmaking in order to better convey its message. An example of this is seen in the found footage style used for the news footage. Not only does this allow the audience a way into the world but it almost feels voyeuristic in a way as we look down on Wikus running from MNU officers. Also, it adds into the ‘believability’ of the film as the media often loves to cover examples of people on the run.
Another type of filmmaking used in the film is the more stereotypical handheld and shaky action film camera. This is only rarely seen in the first half of the film but becomes much more prevalent in the second half. And if I’m honest this is where the film almost comes unstuck as it falls into the same trap as modern action films: basically making it impossible to know who’s shooting where and at what. At the absolute minimum, it does capture the chaotic nature of the film so there’s at least some positives to take from the madness.
Apartheid and Racism within District 9’s Story
Another huge positive from the film is how it accurately and systematically breaks down apartheid and racist societies around the world. This is perhaps best seen in the handheld documentary style shots used in the opening act. Here, a still human Wikus is going around unjustly evicting aliens under the pretence of relocation but really it’s a cover up for finding weapons. This gets quite uncomfortable at times as the parallels between the aliens being evicted and real world events get very close and properly make the audience reconsider their positions on the matter.
Also, by using a documentary style of filming here it allows Blomkamp to go more mockumentary and take the piss out of people who think that just rehousing immigrants in worse housing will make all their problems go away. This is especially true of the beginning which seems to be a more racist version of the Office.
To summarise District 9, this is a fun and very impactful film which uses alien life landing on Earth as a metaphor for apartheid and systemic racism as a whole. It does this through clever use of documentary and mockumentary footage as well as traditional Hollywood action style filmmaking. Overall, a very worthwhile watch both knowing and not knowing any context about the film.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good
Target Audience: 15+
Content Warning: Severe Violence and Gore, Mild Sex and Nudity, Severe Profanity, Mild Alcohol, Drugs and Smoking, Severe Frightening and Intense Scenes