2009's "District 9" (hereinafter "D9") is directed by Neill Blomkamp ("flower field") and stars the indefatigable Sharlto Copley, who has gone on to prove his action and acting chops in movies like "Elysium" and "Hardcore Henry." It is the story of an alien mother ship that finds itself stranded for twenty years over Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens—about two million of them—are herded into an area that rapidly becomes a shanty/ghetto, and alien-human interaction is often tense and violent, with plenty of room for misunderstanding, double-dealing, perversion, betrayal, and murder. A human organization called the MNU (the appropriately soulless "Multinational United"—a name that means nothing*), the second-largest arms manufacturer on the planet, goes out in force into District 9 to serve eviction notices to the aliens (called by the speciesist epithet "prawns" for their crustacean looks and scavenging ways), who are to be moved to a different camp away from Johannesburg to defuse tensions with the locals. Leading the force is Wikus van de Merwe (Copley), who does his cheerful best to go from house to house, serving notices, flagging illegal activity, and burning alien eggs. At one point, Wikus finds a cylinder filled with a liquid that sprays all over him; this turns out to be a mutagen that begins to transform Wikus into an alien—but one who is now capable of using the aliens' DNA-activated weaponry. This makes Wikus both a wanted and a hunted commodity, even as he is shunned by fellow humans. Wikus befriends an alien with the human name of Christopher Johnson and gets involved in Christopher's attempts to get the mother ship off-planet. The film's exposition covers the background history of the aliens' arrival and misery, but the plot focuses on Wikus's physical transformation and his changing sympathies as the mutagen works more deeply into his chromosomal structure. I saw elements of "Enemy Mine" in this movie as a human learns to befriend aliens that are generally looked down upon or seen as adversaries; I also saw strong echoes of David Cronenberg's "The Fly" (with Jeff Goldblum), a film that also showcases fingernail loss, tooth loss, and assorted shots of skin-ripping body horror as the transformation worsens our protag's appearance. This being a film about a sequestered Other set in South Africa, the ambient apartheid metaphor is going to be inevitable; it's always somewhere, floating in the background. The film also pulls no punches in showing the world the bad side of Johannesburg; this is no tourist brochure the way the Lord of the Rings films were a proud advert for New Zealand (Peter Jackson co-produced D9, for what it's worth). After watching D9, I had absolutely no motivation ever to visit South Africa. The film is also Brian De Palma levels of bloody: once Wikus quickly "melds" with an alien rifle and, later, a full-sized mecha, evil humans start exploding like gorged mosquitoes being slapped. The special effects of D9 struck me as uneven in quality, and the aliens seemed far too human for the story to be too much of a departure from, say, a Star Trek episode (one alien even bangs its fist against a wall in anger—a very human gesture). I also had to wonder why the hell Wikus wasn't immediately quarantined** the moment he accidentally sprayed himself with the alien mutagen—and why other people he came in contact with (the man was coughing black fluid at points) weren't also quarantined. That was a huge plot hole for me. But flaws aside, D9 was eminently watchable—a rib-sticking blend of action flick and body-horror morality play... although I'd have trouble telling you what the film's central message was.
*For about two weeks, back when I was desperate for cash years and years ago, I worked as a telemarketer for a company with the equally faceless name of Dealer Broker Trust. May those fucking bloodsuckers rot in hell.
**D9 isn't unique among sci-fi films in showing poor infection-control procedures. You may recall I had a similar complaint about the truly fecal "Prometheus." And God help us, there's yet another goddamn sequel on the way.