Mentioned that each genre of film gets initialised and then perfected. Alien films have started to tail off nowadays, but there was a time 10-15 years ago when you couldn’t change the channel without stumbling over War of the Worlds. The archetypal alien film that springs to mind is always something like Independence Day, in which a huge spaceship settles over an American city and blows everything up. They come in to kill everyone and leave. How do you know it’s the archetype? Its parodied and copied for years after. Almost every alien invasion film since has the same structure. But it’s nowhere near perfect. The perfect, most realistic, most interesting alien “invasion” film made is District 9.
Set as a documentary, its clear straight away that it isn’t your average invasion film. It’s made obvious that the aliens aren’t there intentionally, and the first sight of them makes the viewer instantly sympathetic towards them. Never has anyone watched an alien movie and immediately started rooting for the aliens. But suggesting that they haven’t come to Earth to destroy the planet seems obvious. In a realistic world it’s unlikely that our first encounter with extra-terrestrial life will be in the form of murdering spaceships and explosions, it’s just a hell of a lot easier to make easier on screen. Independence Day is a horrible plot, clichéd and predictable, but its hella watchable, with big speeches and bigger explosions. When you have that kind of premise, you don’t need an original script or even particularly good actors, you just need the visuals.
This is where District 9 breaks that mould. The acting is excellent by Sharlto Copley, the only human with plenty of screen time, which can put a lot of pressure on the performance. His ability to play a nerdy type, but also angry type without it seeming out of character is flawless. But its where the film keeps you constantly assuming that the aliens are on the verge of destruction that’s the masterstroke. A brief summary of the plot is that the aliens are living in a slum in Johannesburg. A government organisation wants to evict the aliens and move them along. Our man Wikus (Copley) is tasked with moving them out. Throughout the 20-minute sequence of him speaking to the aliens to ask them to move, it seems as though a full scale battle will ensue, because that’s what we think happens in all of these types of movies. But it doesn’t, it never does. The way the story then progresses from this point is exciting because its unpredictable, but never far-fetched, which is a fine line on which most directors struggle to travel. Neill Blomkamp does travel it however, and the result is a twisting story, in which the ending is given away in the first 5 minutes, but still leaves you speechless.
It’d be like a slasher movie with no weapons. Not completely left-field, but so original you need to know how that story develops. And it’s a lot more interesting than what we’re used to.