District 9, a sci-fi thriller with a political message about a two-tier society challenged by a mechanised everyman, alerted the world to the talent of South African writer/director Neill Blomkamp.
He follows up with more of the same with ELYSIUM (15: Sony), except with star names and thrice the budget, swapping a Johannesburg township for an impoverished Los Angeles barrio in 2154.
Most of the human race exist in poverty on a ruined Earth, while the super-rich elite have decamped to a man-made paradise in space.
A gym-pumped Matt Damon is determined to get there after being poisoned by radiation in an industrial accident.
The tranquil utopia, called Elysium, is the only place where he can get top-tier medical treatment and he uses stolen government data – uploaded to his shaven head – as a bargaining chip.
District 9’s Sharlto Copley is in vowel-mangling panto mode as the creepy agent assigned to stop him, under orders from Jodie Foster’s chillingly malevolent defence secretary.
Despite providing an immaculately designed world and carefully mapped narrative, Blomkamp’s stirring fable about social inequality is ultimately lost under textbook sci-fi bluster and booming overstatement as Damon, in full-metal armature, transforms into a Nietzschean superman.
> UPSTREAM COLOUR (12: Metrodome) is an abstract, experimental sci-fi thriller shot in a stark style that will get under your skin, one way or another. It hinges on a mysterious figure who infects a young woman with a parasitic worm that makes her susceptible to a form of hypnosis.
While she is in this state he steals all her life savings.
Shane Carruth, who directed, wrote, produced, scored and co-edited the film, also takes the role of her husband who tries to help her unravel what is happening to her.
He relies on deft edits and heavy sound to stir emotion and create tension, but in the end he doesn’t offer any answers to the questions raised.
Oddly beguiling, sometimes beautiful and always enigmatic, this independent production was a hit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, but it will divide viewers.
> A giant alien spider escapes from a laboratory and rampages across Los Angeles in BIG ASS SPIDER (15: Studio Canal). When a military strike fails, it is up to a team of scientists and one clever exterminator to kill the creature before the city is destroyed.
You know what you’re going to get when you first see this towering mutant arachnid and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint.
> Crime drama ESSEX BOYS: RETRIBUTION (18: Metrodome) starring Billy Murray, is set 20 years after the suspicious deaths of three of the country’s most shocking killers sparked the collapse of a criminal empire. The murderer is yet to be caught and newcomers have taken the lead in gangland Britain, with revenge on the agenda.
> Dolph Lundgren stars in BATTLE OF THE DAMNED (15: Studio Canal) in which a security breach at a remote test facility leaves most of the civilian population decimated. With only a handful of survivors still present in the hostile environment where the dead still walk, tough-as-nails mercenary Max Gatling (Lundgren) is sent in to clean up the mess.