I just re-watched this on a whim and got reminded what an incredible film it is. It makes extensive of use of CGI creatures but in unlike many big-budget efforts these creatures are convincing living presences on the screen. Using the very familiar pseudo documentary style it effectively created a convincing reality where these creatures exist and it the end left really gasping for a sequel.
A large alien vessel has come to a stop over the city of Johannesburg and after waiting for quite a while for something to happen next the authorities investigate and find it is full of starving aliens. Under scrutiny from the rest of the world and mindful of their history of apartheid the South African authorities agree to let them stay in Johannesburg. The aliens are arthropod-like creatures nicknamed prawns that are generally violent, unpleasant and it doesn’t take long for conflicts to arise with the locals so the authorities drive the creatures into a slum area called District 9. Now 20 years later they want them moved out of the city altogether and they have called in a private security company to assist the government agency the MNU to deliver eviction notices to the aliens as part of a bit of legal ass-covering by the government.
A documentary crew follow the leader of the relocation squad Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) as he leads the squad into District 9. Wikus is a perfect little bureaucrat delivering the eviction notices while backed-up by the mercenaries and raiding the prawn’s shacks for illegal activity while giving a running social commentary to the film crew. The most disturbing is when he finds a nursery full of alien eggs and proceeds to have it incinerated while he chuckles at the popping sounds the eggs make. Meanwhile the alien Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) and his son and a friend are searching the tips around the slums for alien technology. They need this to power their drop-ship to return to the mothership so they can return home to arrange a rescue for their people. It has taken them 20 years to collect enough and that’s when Wikus and his squad arrive at their friends shack. Christopher hides the cylinder and tells his friend to be polite to the humans to avoid suspicion. This goes very badly and Wikus and the film crew search the shack with Wikus looking for anything illegal. They find the rear room with a lab where Christopher was extracting the fluid and Wikus almost stumble across the cylinder. He examines it “probably illegal” and he unscrews the top and gets face full of the black fluid.
They find weapons in another part of the shack so Wikus goes out to interrogate the alien but about the fluid and the weapons and the alien panics and attacks them injuring Wikus’s arm. The mercenaries kill the alien while Christopher looks on sadly. Wikus feels violently sick and after getting his arm patched up by a field medic he goes home. He just want to go to bed but unfortunately his wife has arranged a surprise party for him to celebrate his promotion to squad leader. The party come to an abrupt end when Wikus throws up over the cake and passes out on the floor. His wife takes him to hospital and the doctor cuts off the field dressing on his arm to examine it but the arm is now an alien arm. The doctor immediately alerts the MNU who swoop in and transfer him to the MNU headquarters
Wikus is now treated like a medical curiosity and they examine his arm and how much pain it causes him when they cut into it. Then they discover he can fire the alien weapons which humans can’t do and they make him fire many weapons, using a cattle prod to make him fire against his will. The worst is when instead of using a pig carcass as a target they put an alien. Back on the operating table the doctors are discussing how to take Wikus apart as Wikus wasn’t hearing all this. His father-in-law Piet Smits (Louis Minnaar) is the chief executive of MNU and he is coldly going along with their plans. Just as they are about start dissecting Wikus he breaks free and manages to escape from the MNU building.
Wikus is now on the run with the MNU after him. He can’t even buy food because the MNU are claiming he had illegal sex with an alien and is now highly contagious and dangerous. The only place he can go to hide is District 9 where he ends up having to rely on Christopher and his son to hide him from the MNU and their mercenaries. At last Wikus has met someone who knows what has happened and may even be able to help him to be a normal human again. Unfortunately Christopher really needs the tube of liquid so this means Wikus has to break back in to the MNU building and get it.
Wikus goes to the brutal Nigerian gangsters who have set up base in District 9, taking advantage of the aliens. He wants to buy weapons but their leader wants to eat his arm in the superstitious belief that Wikus’s alien weapon wielding abilities will be passed on to him. They hold him down and are about to cut it off when Wikus manages to grab an alien weapon and blast away a lot of the gang and escape with the weapons. Christopher and Wikus break into the MNU lab where Christopher is shocked by the sight of the corpses of his fellow aliens cut up an experimented on. Wikus retrieves the cylinder and they escape in a stolen MNU truck, chased all the way by the MNU in trucks and helicopters.
There is an amazing showdown at the where Wikus get into walking alien weapon and take on the MNU mercenaries to allow Christopher and his son to get into the drop-ship and return to the mother ship safely. They start up the mothership and leave with Christopher having promised Wikus that he will be back in three years.
This film is everything great science fiction is about while still having the crowd pleasing action. It covers deep ideas about the morality of how we treat others in our society by having the aliens as the others and using their treatment to look at the issues more objectively. I liked the documentary and other footage being used to provide the setting for the story especially the vox pops. The films looks really amazing and I felt totally immersed in the District 9 community more effectively than 3D has ever done. In fact my only complaint about District 9 is that there is no sequel.