District 9 (2009)

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A masterwork of originality, creativity & imagination, District 9 is a solidly crafted, intricately layered & thought-provoking study of humanity that’s rich in themes, dense in emotions & accomplished in all storytelling aspects, and remains one of the most riveting & refreshing works of sci-fi filmmaking to surface on the silver screen in recent years.

The title refers to the government camp where inhabitants of the alien ship that has been hovering over Johannesburg for the past three decades are being confined to. The plot follows a bureaucrat who’s tasked with the operation of relocating the extraterrestrials to another location after conflicts between the aliens & locals worsens but finds himself in a wholly different scenario when he gets exposed to their biotechnology.

Co-written & directed by Neill Blomkamp in what is his feature film debut, District 9 is an outstanding start to his directorial career and finds the up-n-coming filmmaker in total control as he utilises all the available resources in an efficient manner to bring his tale to life. It’s a sensational debut, not because Blomkamp has a clear idea of the story he wants to tell but also because he knows how to create just the right kind of curiosity to get the viewers on board.

The screenplay features a relatively simple plot on the surface but is brimming with multitudes of themes on the inside. The story is compelling & character-driven, the character arcs are well-defined & exhibit welcome depth, the journey that our protagonist undergoes is emotionally stimulating and allows the audience to invest in it, for which they are handsomely rewarded in the end, and its commentary on xenophobia & segregation is only getting more relevant with time.

Within its opening moments, the film is able to establish an aura of tension & conflict by concisely going through the events of the past to pave the groundwork for what’s about to unfold in the present. The animosity between the two species isn’t far from the xenophobic attitudes that’s still rampant around the world. The ghetto & forced eviction elements are a glimpse into South Africa’s own history. But not everything is depressing here, for there is a hint of hope to be found in our protagonist’s transitional journey.

The technical aspects work in tandem to highly enrich the overall experience. Cinematography employs the quasi-documentary shooting style and its grainy, hand-held camerawork & degrading colour palette further amplify the bleak tone & desolate setting. Despite its seemingly high-concept sci-fi premise, the story has a very grounded feel to it, for it is more concerned with the human condition even when dealing with the extraterrestrials whose repulsive, insect-like design doesn’t hold the audience back from empathising with their situation.

Coming to the performances, the cast consists of Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James & more relatively unknown actors which adds a layer of authenticity to the film’s documentary-like format. Copley plays his part with stunning flair & professionalism and paints a compelling & gut-wrenching portrait of a man who faces overwhelming odds when he’s forced to confront his identity and eventually learns what it means to be human. And his performance only gets better as the plot progresses. The supporting actors are no slouch in their given roles and play their part accordingly.

On an overall scale, District 9 has all the hallmarks of an instant classic and it launches the careers of both Blomkamp & Copley on a very promising note. It does run into few genre tropes, turns into an action bonanza in its final act, and lacks a proper closure but it still is endlessly fascinating, thoroughly engaging & highly entertaining, and packs more flesh than the majority of sci-fi flicks that surface on the big screen every year. One of the best films of its year, one of the strongest debuts around, and definitely a worthy addition to its genre, District 9 is a stellar work of science-fiction. Strongly recommended.

District 9