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District 9


Stars: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Vanessa Haywood, Louis Minnaar, Sylvaine Strike

Director: Neill Blomkamp

A terrific South African science-fiction film that mixes in elements from The Quatermass Experiment and For Whom the Bell Tolls with an alien scenario all its own. The action is almost non-stop, but the human element also runs strongly through the film, giving it a perfect balance. Consequently, you're gripped by both the plight of the aliens and that of the anti-hero.

Twenty years ago, it transpires, an alien mothership came to a grinding halt over Johannesburg. Its inhabitants, hundreds of them, are undernourished and terrified. Nicknamed 'prawns' by the populace because of a vague resemblance (though slightly taller than humans), the creatures are herded together in a segregated area called District 9, which quickly becomes a shantytown and hotbed of black market trafficking, as the aliens bargain for supplies of the catfood they love.

When the authorities decree they be moved to a 'better' area, low-level bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (the wonderful Sharlto Copley) is assigned to head up the operation as one of the few people who can understand the clicks and grunts that make up the aliens' speech.

The evacuation is violent and difficult and, in the course of it, Wikus discovers a mysterious canister that infects him with alien DNA. Taken to hospital, his arm turns into a 'prawn'-like claw, and surgeons decide to dissect him to find the secret of operating alien artillery which he now seems to hold.

Wikus foils them by escaping and ends up back in District 9, where he meets highly intelligent alien 'Christopher Johnson' and his son, who have an escape plan of their own. Will Wikus help them - or become obsessed with his own survival?

This is a film that grips on every level, exciting and involving down the last frame - and even throws in one or two heartbreaking moments at the end. It's produced by Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson, and marks a glittering debut for its young South African director. The scenario's associations with apartheid, though obvious and uncomfortable, are never unduly pressed.

David Quinlan

South Africa/New Zealand 2009. UK Distributor: Sony (Tri-Star). Colour.
112 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 31 Aug 2009