Lovecraftian Movie Review: District 9

slums 400x215 Lovecraftian Movie Review: District 9

an actual slum, similar to District 9

District 9 can’t in any way be called Lovecraftian in the conventional sense, but it is a terrific, smart, exciting film, a combination science fiction-horror-war-social commentary. The performances are top-notch, and the pace is relentless. Despite the F-bomb being used more liberally here than any film since Scarface, the dialogue is is crisp and believable. There are two story points that bug me, but hey, given that science-fiction films have largely been represented by Transformers these last couple of years, they seem like quibbles. (But I’m going to mention them anyway:-))

If you haven’t seen the film, the nuts and bolts of the story concerns an alien population that has got stranded on Earth, specifically South Africa. Called “Prawns” because of their appearance –it’s a grotesquely apt  if derogatory description–they have been ghettoized in a slum called District 9. The slum itself, the likes of which really exist in many countries around the globe, including South Africa, is a horror of filth and trash, so far below poverty as to be repellant. Of course, the reigning notion is that the aliens live like this because of some essential moral lack, not because it is the only option available to them.

The population of District 9 has grown, and human revulsion has become so great, that the government has hired a military contractor, Multiational United, to relocate the ‘undesirables.  to a new facility far from the city; the petty official put in charge of the relocation effort is Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an appallingly dimwitted nerd, oblivious to his racism and incompetence. Think Steve Carrel playing Michael Scott in a serious drama.

Alien technology has been retrieved from the mother ship, and MNU is particularly interested in the weapons. The hitch in the git-along is that the weapons can only be used by… alien. It’s a bit hard to believe that in 20 years they’ve never been able to persuade one alien to help them test the weapons, but perhaps this is meant to be a comment on a superior morality.

During the relocation, Wikus is exposed to an alien fluid, and though it seems like he would go, or be forced to go, to a hospital when he starts showing symptoms, the story does really get rolling from that point onward. No spoilers here, but Wikus travels an amazing distance as a character. Copley gives an outstanding performance of a thoroughly unlikeable man, who, if never quite fully redeemed, is at least on the road.

The horror in the film is multi-layered, ranging from the socioeconomic and moral to military combat in the streets to genetic transformation, most of which is very powerful. Much is implied rather than experienced directly, though there are plenty of bodies bursting

district9 362x400 Lovecraftian Movie Review: District 9

SharltonCopley as Wikus van de Merwe

like water filled balloons. Still, it’s a nice change from the literal gore and dismemberment of recent horror movies. Since the arc of the story is contained within a very short time frame, the action is non-stop, and the realistic, documentary approach adds the immediacy we’ve come to expect in our 24-hour news world.

Looking at the movie from a Lovecraftian perspective is interesting. A lot of the themes from his life and fiction are echoed in the film, and perhaps had he lived and continued to develop personally in the direction he seemed to be going, he might well have written something like District 9. That notion probably has him twisting in his grave; one of the things he despised most about science-fiction was the idea that alien beings would have moral and ethical ideas similar to humans. Cthulhu & co. were born out of the combination of this belief and  Lovecraft’s philosophy of cosmic indifference.

Yet it isn’t hard to imagine stories like “The Horror at Red Hook” or “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family” being set in this world. There are implications of miscegenation and impure blood in District 9, and though no occult or religious rituals are shown, it would not be a difficult task to graft them on. If Lovecraft’s own racism wasn’t enough for him to despise  the ‘prawns,’ their resemblance to arthropods would have definitely pushed him over the edge. District 9 might be a South African Innsmouth.

Oddly, the character that most exemplifies Lovecraft’s idea of an alien personality, a complete moral indifference to mankind, is a human, the head of MNU who is also Wikus’s father-in-law. Give him some tentacles on his face and he could get to work re-establishing the old order in no time, or pal around with that Whately boy.

Lastly, I find a resemblance between Wikus and the Old Gentleman himself. Both nerdy intellectuals, both racist, both socially inept, both blinded by preconceived notions of their ‘obvious’ superiority, they are both forced by circumstances to confront those weaknesses and grow. Hard as it may be to imagine Granpa in a metal robot suit,  his devotion to his friends strikes me as no less deeply held than that of Wikus for his wife. Metaphorically, by the time of his death in 1937, Lovecraft had made a similar if less action-packed journey. I only wish a sequel –for HPL– was in the works.


  1. wordblind

    It wasn’t that the humans couldn’t get an alien to help test the weapons. (The aliens were certainly ready to hawk the weapons in the first place.) MNU just needed to test a source of human-graft-able triggers when one fell into its hands.

  2. Ali S.

    I just watched the movie last night and it blew my mind. If anything that really truly impressed me would be the character growth of Wikus from the dimwitted desk jockey to one who begins to understand his own humanity and the life of the Prawns he was so ready to “evict”. The movie subtly evokes parallel experiences of the refugee camps all over the world and how people treat the people there and the question of how Humans would treat another species for monetary gain. The movie also appeals to those wanting an alien action flick and to those who enjoy a movie with social/ethical quandaries.

  3. Michael A. Sinclair

    Watched this movie after reading your review and was most thoroughly impressed. I couldn’t help but marvel as Wikus’s idiocy (especially when he knocks Christopher unconscious just before the climax; he would have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d just been patient and trusting) and yet also at his metamorphosis (the internal one). My wife enjoyed it also, though she didn’t care for the lack of resolution. Me, I thought it was perfect. This movie is exactly what I expect from Peter Jackson; after watching it, I even forgive him for King Kong.