It never became a franchise, because it was never looking to become one. District 9 feels like a forgotten relic of an era that wasn’t even all that long ago. It wasn’t about superheroes. It wasn’t an adaptation of a famous book. It wasn’t a remake of an old classic.
District 9 is a film about aliens in refugee/internment camps, investigative journalists, bureaucrats, and the militarized police in charge of the camps. But really, it’s a story about apartheid.
We get a fascinating look into life inside the camps in a found-footage extravaganza of viewpoints. There are suspicions and subplots, conspiracies both real and imagined, casual racism, systemic cruelty, and a smattering of nifty near-future technology.
All wrapped up in the story of one man’s genuine desire to help the aliens he’s charged with relocating, and the consequences that ensue when he triggers an unknown device while intervening on their behalf.
Of course, the film is set in South Africa for a reason. And it substitutes oppressed aliens for oppressed humans because that’s the difference between your movie earring $210M dollars and 4 Academy Award nominations, spreading your message worldwide, and being lauded at an indie film festival and maybe an “in select theaters” release in the US.
District 9 is funny at times, but mostly it’s chaotic, raw, and a little bit uncomfortable, especially if you’re aware of the historical parallels. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.
After all, at its heart, District 9 is a story about one overlooked man trying to help, and still get home to his wife at the end of the work day. And the movie blends both levels of the story—the larger social mirror and one man’s struggle to go home—brilliantly.