Monday, August 17, 2009

255) District 9 (2009)

255) District 9 (2009) Dir: Neill Blomkamp Date Released: August 2009 Date Seen: August 17, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

Because it's hard to imagine how District 9's scifi apartheid allegory could be subtle, there's no easy way to censure it for its excesses. Though I hate to act like a school marm and begrudge writer/director Neil Blomkamp's exorbitant use of faux-doc style shaky cam and grisly, blood-soaked violence, I have to object to his using such blunt narrative tools so inexpertly. Both are not uncalled for given the film's subject but both eventually raise unintended questions about how seriously Blomkamp intends us to take his grisly metaphor. 

I'll start with my complaint against Blomkamp's over-use of shaky cam. After a scant 20-25 minutes have passed, it becomes impossible to believe the film's claim to present a grimy fantasy world in a verite style. Once the camera starts to film Christopher, the "Prawn" refugee that alien oppressor and soon co-conspirator Wilkus Van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley in his stellar, sweat-drenched debut) pursues most actively, it becomes clear that Blomkamp is no longer following his own rules. The camera is showing us things that no human cameraman could possibly be privy to, eliminating the possibility that everything we're seeing is recorded by a subjective intelligence (there's also no hint that the camera could be wielded by an artificial or even alien intelligence; it's just there at the right place at the right time). This is the first obvious sign that Blomkamp, like so many other genre filmmakers that use shaky cam to make a political point--Mr. Romero, I'm unfortunately looking at you--is more concerned with the effect of his style than in the logistics of it. 

The second sign that Blomkamp's an effective but brusque showman comes from his misappropriation of gut-busting gore. Though the film would probably not be as effective without these squeamish flourishes of flayed, exploding flesh, Blomkamp uses that logic as a mandate to go over the top. The two or three times when the camera is showered in viscera because of its truly unfortunate proximity to a newly asploded victim show that there is more of Peter Jackson's campy influence on Blomkamp's tough-minded film than there should be. Harsh conditions for the viewer are thus exploited to the point where they appear wanton more often than they should. If only Blomkamp had been a bit more rigorous in his editing.


  1. I was never really bothered by the switching between faux-doc and standard third-person omniscient. This may have been because I was prepared for it, thus didn't fixate on the changes. It's definitely not the most authentic strategy, and is certainly lazier than trying to do one or the other the whole way. Blomkamp essentially deployed the faux-doc as a storytelling gimmick, albeit a very successful one in my opinion. While it's not as prevalent on the big screen -- deployed in this limited fashion as opposed to full-fledged Blair Witch/Cloverfield stuff, it's something that we've seen a lot on TV in recent years. Police procedurals and their ilk love to work in the handheld footage. The Closer has basically made it part of the weekly routine.

    As for the gore, I actually enjoyed it, though as a out-and-out genre fan, I'm largely the target audience for this kind of thing. What more surprised me, by way of Jackson influences, were the small and ultimately unnecessary attempts at humor. In particular, much of the baby/toddler prawn stuff just felt really awkward.

  2. I'd agree re: your first point if I felt like Blomkamp wasn't just using that technique as one of the cornerstones of the film's argument. I would have enjoyed the gore more too if it weren't tainted w/that awkward sense of campy humor and the fact that it too is a means of establishing the film's story as heavy-handed metaphor. The kiddy prawn stuff I liked.