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Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9 provides a thrilling hybrid of action and sci-fi allegory

click to enlarge QUIT BUGGIN' ME: Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe
  • QUIT BUGGIN' ME: Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe

In the impressive sci-fi thriller District 9, the nickname “Prawn” sticks to alien refugees whose mothership inexplicably arrives above Johannesburg, South Africa, and remains as a surreal fixture hanging above the cityscape. Nonplussed, the human race transfers the thousands of malnourished Prawns from their ship to terra firma. The blocks beneath the ship gradually become an impoverished alien shantytown called District 9.

The Prawns prove to be highly unsettling neighbors. With tentacled mouths, the tall, insectoid bipeds show uncomfortable delight in raw meat, cat food and high-powered weapons that only interface with their alien DNA. District 9 director Neill Blomkamp begins with a dizzying documentary-style recap of the human race’s first contact with the Prawns. Talking heads, man-on-the-street interviews, and “Cops”-style footage show how humanity’s wonder at alien intelligence swiftly turned into revulsion and hostility.

Two decades after the ship’s arrival, sinister corporation MNU takes charge of relocating the Prawns — now an impoverished, ghettoized population of 1.8 million — to a new camp several hundred kilometers outside Johannesburg. MNU’s head honcho makes his son-in-law Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) the lead on the relocation. Wikus is clearly a disaster waiting to happen. Private security troops armed to the teeth accompany Wikus and MNU employees to serve eviction papers to the Prawns. In one moment of bureaucratic surrealism, Wikus tries to explain the situation to a Prawn urinating in the street and wearing a red bra. Subtitles translate a Prawn’s clicky language as “Fuck off!”

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