This was an excellent cinema-going experience, which my friend and I both found thought-provoking some time after the movie ended. How on earth can we treat people like we do?
The early part of the film unfolds, documentary-style, how the film's aliens have come to be living in the South African slum area known as District 9 (based on an infamous white-only area of Cape Town, from which 60,000 people were forced to move during the 70s, their homes bull-dozed).
When they arrived, mal-nourished and strange, the humans didn't know what to do with the alien nuisance. Feared because of their prawn-like appearance, it isn't long before riots erupt and barbed wire goes up surrounding the "prawn" zone. So the stage is set for main protagonist Van Der Merwe to wade in with an armed team to forcibly evict the aliens and confiscate their personal "illegal" property - and so begins this story about recovering freedom from oppression, at great cost.
The film makes it easy to see how prejudice, cruelty and deception can be the convenient thing, there being great political pressure to get the aliens moved further from Johannesburg. It is an exciting, important project, for the good of South Africa - rather than an illegal act, taking advantage of those who don't know how to defend themselves according to South African law. It's certainly not seen for what it really is: An upheaval of families, the aliens and their children, a bullying of them and herding them up into more of a prison camp than a home.
If this is sounding a bit heavy, it's not all about political allegory. The story twists into a frantic kind of horror, a short section a bit like The Fugitive, and finally an impossible-seeming mission to set things right - which leaves us with a violent, action-y climax. It is definitely surprising, feeling like an energetic South African drama, but also drawing on the action blockbuster genre. I was thinking about the other films I've been to see this year and would say it lies somewhere in the middle of a film like the excellent Slumdog Millionaire and the satisfying summer flick Star Trek. But I guess more thought-provoking than either!