District 9

Ever wonder what would happen if a bunch of very non-human-looking alien refugees showed up on Earth? Wonder no longer, because I’m pretty sure this movie predicts that very accurately. You know, aside from the particularly weird stuff that happens to the main character, because I’m not sure those exact details would ever happen, but the general outline is probably just about perfect. When a strange, huge spaceship over Johannesburg, South Africa, is opened to reveal a bunch of half-starved, stranded aliens, humanity swings into action to welcome them — except of course no one wants aliens actually living next door to them, and the nice little “holding area” where they first start moving the aliens quickly becomes the worst kind of slum.
To be fair, these aliens aren’t exactly pleasant company. Many of them are apparently not particularly bright — they seem to have some sort of hive mind, according to one of the sociologist-types they interview, and can’t think so well without their leaders, who are nowhere to be found — and most of them seem to have nasty tempers. Though it’s hard to tell if they’re normally like that, or if they’re just annoyed at being stuck in tiny little shacks, given human names they can’t pronounce, and having no way to get back home, which would make anyone testy, I’m sure. They also seem to get high on cat food, which must have made that a booming industry.
Anyway, the film is done in the pseudo-documentary, let’s-jiggle-the-camera-around-a-lot style that’s so popular these days. It fits the subject well, but it’s still dizzying. To start with especially, it really is a documentary — it’s only later that we get any real main characters. Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley, who’s apparently making his acting debut here, at least as far as being a major character) starts out as more a sort of narrator. He’s middle management for a company called MNU (Multinational United) — a typical, geeky-looking pencil-pusher, whose own mother calls him “not very bright, but a good son,” and who’s getting ahead thanks to marrying the boss’ daughter, Tania (Vanessa Haywood, also debuting on the big screen). He seems genuinely crazy about her, though, and in spite of the fact that she’s gorgeous and filthy rich, the feeling is mutual.
The gimmick to start us out is that Wikus is being interviewed by the documentary filmmakers about how MNU is handling the problem of transporting the aliens (the humans have at last gotten their way, and the “prawns”, as they’re called — shrimp to those of you who speak American English — are being moved a hundred miles from Johannesburg), and the film doesn’t really have a plot as such until about halfway through.

This means you!

But that’s good. The rapid-fire documentary style pulls you in to start. Wikus is trying painfully hard to do a good job, very aware of the cameras and his father-in-law, and he views the whole thing as a sort of game much of the time as he goes from shack to shack, asking the aliens to “put their scrawl” on the official eviction notices. Thousands and thousands of official eviction notices, and every alien ticked off at being pestered by the humans, and all of them faster and stronger than humans, which is why the troop of heavily-armed mercenaries is along. (Ever notice how that always seems to happen? Just once someone should find an alien race that’s weaker and less intelligent than humans.) Anyway, Wikus talks about it being “Christmas” every time they find a cache of illegal weapons, and he describes the burning of a nest of alien eggs with way too much excitement.
Then everything goes terribly, bizarrely wrong for him, and I won’t say exactly how because some of you might hate me for spoiling that surprise. I mean, it isn’t a shocker, and I know the spoiler’s out there, but I won’t put it here and risk ruining things for any of my twelve loyal readers. Suffice to say a few gross things happen, and he goes from comfortable, boring, middle-class guy to highly wanted fugitive in the space of a few hours. Talk about a bad day. It’s about that point that the plot kicks in, and instead of narrating, Wikus is the star. I can’t exactly call him a hero, though, at least to start.
So here we have a good story, good acting, good directing (as far as I could tell around the wobbly cameras), and an all around good movie, for a refreshing change. I made myself watch The Collector when that came out, and couldn’t even bring myself to write about it. (Actually, I can sum up all you need to know here in just five words: by the writer of Saw.) But with District 9, the movie industry is trying to make up for that debacle.
Four and a quarter idols. It was definitely too icky in parts for my taste, but it wasn’t gore for the sake of gore, like in some OTHER movie I might have mentioned in the previous paragraph. Even if you don’t like sci-fi, give this one a try. These aliens are a lot more human than you might think.