Sci-fi dramas: District 9 and Monsters

If you say ‘alien’ or ‘invasion’ you immediately think of such films as Independence Day and War of the Worlds.

However, recently there has been a new breed of alien invasion films. For example, 2009’s District 9 and 2010’s Monsters.

This weekend – though not intentionally – I watched both films.

I watched District 9 at the cinema when it came out in September 2009. However, I never saw Monsters, which was released in December 2010. I remember reading about it in Empire though it was my dad who couldn’t stop raving about it. He watched it on a flight and thought it was brilliant.

Neighbours from hell

Both these films have one major theme in common: what happens after the aliens have landed and have become part of society.

In District 9, the alien life form, nicknamed ‘prawns’, came to Earth 28 years ago aboard a large mothership. Hovering motionless above Johannesburg, South Africa, a team went into the mothership and found sick and malnourished extra terrestrials. They were brought back and confined to a restricted government area known as ‘District 9’.

In Monsters, the alien life form came to Earth after a NASA space probe containing extra terrestrial samples crash landed by the US-Mexico border. The film begins six years later and the area where the ‘monsters’ reside is now known as the ‘Infected Zone’.

In both films the aliens are confined to one particular area and have little interaction with humans. However, the living arrangements are anything but easy. As it says on a trailer for District 9: “coexistence has never been easy”.

District 9

In District 9 it has been decided that the alien population should be evicted and rehomed in District 10, a new camp some distance from Johannesburg. Naturally, there is some resistance. During the eviction process, task leader Wikus van de Merwe is sprayed in the face by an alien canister containing a dark fluid. The fluid begins to turn Wikus’ DNA into that of a ‘prawn’.

What follows is Wikus’ transformation. Hunted by those he used to work for, Wikus’ life crumbles around him. His sole saviour? The owner of the canister, Christopher, who reveals that he had been searching for the fluid in order to awaken the dormant mothership.

Monsters

Compared to District 9, the plot isn’t as involved. There is little background information about the aliens or what happened in the six years since the aliens arrived. To borrow from Empire, director/screenwriter Gareth Edwards’ script is “all about suggestion rather than dictation”.

The film follows photojournalist Andrew and Sam, Andrew’s employer’s daughter, as they try to get from San Jose to America. They plan to travel to the Mexican coast to get a boat to the United States. However, they are forced to hitch hike after the train they catch is unable to travel any further due to the destruction of the rail road.

When they reach the coast they find out it is $5,000 plus a passport to catch the ferry. Andrew pays for Sam’s ticket home but, courtesy of Andrew’s new bed friend, their passports go missing. Their only option is to cross the Infected Zone by land…

Post-invasion: does it work?

Well, I think so. A simple alien invasion film is very limited. To see what happens post-invasion creates a lot of possibilities.

Both District 9 and Monsters were shot on a budget. District 9 had a budget of $30 million and, according to Box Office Mojo, has a worldwide gross of over $200 million. Monsters had a budget of $500,000 and a worldwide gross of over $4 million. In fact, Monsters was director Gareth Edwards’ first feature film. According to an interview with Edwards, filming took just three weeks with a four-man crew.

I really, really like District 9. It’s fast-paced and is very ‘real’ – the aliens hold their ground and considering it is state-of-the-art effects, it’s not flashy or ‘in your face’. The ever-present mothership blends into the Johannesburg skyline seamlessly.

Monsters I watched knowing that it had been shot on a budget: the only professional actors were those playing Andrew and Sam. The scenery is superb and is reminiscent of Jurassic Park. I did enjoy the film but left annoyed with the unanswered questions: what was Sam doing in Mexico? The charm of the film is that you can make your own decisions. As Empire says, it’s all about suggestion rather than dictation…

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