Friday, August 14, 2009


I was a big fan of DEAD ALIVE. But post KING KONG, the name Peter Jackson really doesn't do it for me anymore. With that project he seemed to have completely abandoned his irreverent horror roots in favor of becoming another corporate director of mainstream fluff. So when the hype started to trickle down several months ago that Jackson was producing DISTRICT 9, I was interested but not completely sold.

Because of my lack of faith in Jackson and the nonstop fanboy hype, I went into it ready to hate it. But the film won me over. I can safely say that DISTRICT 9 is the best film of the summer, possibly of 2009 so far.

How can I gush about this film without ruining it? Believe me, I am going to try.

The setting is Johannesburg, South Africa. An alien flying saucer has been stalled in the sky overhead for 20 years, the 1.8 million aliens on board moved into a concentration camp beneath it on the earth's surface. The South African government has been "taking care" of the aliens, but the conditions in the camp are poor. The aliens live in garbage and squalor, and the human residents of Johannesburg want the aliens gone.

Racism and greed are the key elements in this film. The people who they puppet are gnarled, vile humans, and the aliens are the victims.

In an interesting turn of the plot, some Nigerian gangsters run their crime syndicate and prostitution ring from inside the alien compound. What the film presents is the trump card to the "wretched hive of scum and villainy" presented with Mos Eisley in Star Wars Episode IV. The difference here is that the evil that is afoot in D9 is palpable and real, vs. completely satirized or downgraded.

The emotional connection to the viewer is made with Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who is an agent assigned to oversee the relocation of the aliens.

The marketing of the film tried to hide how the aliens look, and it is no spoiler for me to tell you that they are plated, tentacled humanoid creatures that look like any number of aliens you may have seen in any number of films in the past. Unlike gimmicky films such as CLOVERFIELD, the substance of D9 goes way beyond what the monsters look like.

As Wikus gets deeper into the alien compound, darker secrets that the aliens and the humans harbor are exposed. Soon the film crosses the line from bizarre documentary to all-out horror show. Sharlto Copley does a fantastic job of portraying the changes and compromises Wikus has to undergo in order to comprehend the aliens that he is relocating. He shifts from a bumbling suit to a darker, more self-centered individual and then into someone who's humanity is completely compromised. It is wonderful and horrifying at the same time.

What is on trial here is the oldest question in the book: "What does it mean to be human?" Wikus's journey through this film chronicles this very question. Furthermore, Christopher, the alien Wikus befriends, is arguably the most "human" character in the film. He is a model citizen, following the rules of the land, and he is a good father watching out for his son. Just because these aliens look like fishy alligator men doesn't mean that they don't possess human qualities. Some of the aliens are "good," and some are "bad," just like human beings.

A similar notion was put across in the abysmally inferior 1988 James Caan vehicle ALIEN NATION. In fact the many similarities between D9 and ALIEN NATION could be drawn with several pen strokes. But in the end, D9 is a much more honest film.

Being a human is a lot more than having skin and a certain bi-ped look. Who is the "other" here and who belongs? D9 takes a violent look at this question and doesn't shy away from its findings.

This film starts off rather tame and ends on a similar note. However, the violent fraying of morality, senses, and most importantly humanity that happens in-between is jarring.

The splatter is steady, and the effects are solid. The film presents all sorts of ugly aspects of bureaucracy, from private government contractors to weapons manufacturing. Greed is the name of the game here, and the aliens are at the center of it all.

Devastator balls be damned. For a fraction of the TRANSFORMERS 2 budget D9 offers a level of conflict that the former couldn't secure. Furthermore,
D9 offers a crippling amount of truth and insight into the human condition. D9 knows what it is doing. This film looks deep into the eye of humans cohabitating with aliens on this planet and shows us what we need to fear, which is obviously, and not so obviously, ourselves.

The fanboys were right this time out. Completely. All of the hype is accurate. This is a fantastic film.
-Mediasaurus Rex