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Every Neill Blomkamp Movie, Ranked Worst To Best (Including Demonic)

Director Neill Blomkamp is back again with Demonic, leading many viewers to wonder how it ranks among his previous film efforts. Released in 2009, District 9 was a blockbuster calling card for Blomkamp. A satirical mockumentary that gradually turned into a sci-fi action-thriller across its lean runtime, the film managed to balance heavy themes like xenophobia, segregation, and immigration with fast-paced, inventive action and gory body horror.

District 9 also made a star of leading man Sharlto Copley, who reunited with Blomkamp in 2013 for the bigger budget sci-fi thriller Elysium. A violent, R-rated action movie, Elysium saw Blomkamp return to sci-fi satire for a second time, before 2015’s more light-hearted Chappie saw the filmmaker try his hand at sci-fi comedy. Since then, Blomkamp’s Alien 5 was announced and subsequently canceled, and the director finally returned to screens in 2021 with his first foray into a pure horror movie.

Related: Demonic: Why The Reviews Are So Negative

Demonic tells the convoluted tale of Carly, an ordinary woman with a dark secret. Her mother is a mass murderer responsible for numerous atrocities, now living on life support as she suffers from locked-in syndrome. When a medical company offers Carly the opportunity to see into her mother’s comatose dreams via experimental technology, the stage is seemingly set for an inventive fusion of The Exorcist and Inception as Blomkamp’s movie blends sci-fi and horror tropes to offer a new take on demonic possession. So, from his most recent release Demonic to the soon-to-be-revisited District 9, how do Neill Blomkamp’s movies rank, and which are worth watching for viewers unfamiliar with his oeuvre?

Unfortunately for Blomkamp, his latest project is also the director’s weakest so far. The premise of an innovative technology allowing people to enter the unhinged minds of killers has a lot of potential, but Demonic fails to capitalize on its central conceit and instead offers a rote, unoriginal horror story that is remarkably short on scares or the director’s trademark memorable visuals. The avian demon is admirably surreal in its design but far from frightening, and the solid campy supporting work from Riverdale scene-stealer Nathalie Boltt is wasted on a premise free from surprises or shocks. Like all of Blomkamp’s work, there are flashes of genius here (one home invasion setpiece, in particular, merges reality and nightmare as effectively as the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise at its best), but these details are few and far between and not numerous enough to salvage a lackluster effort.

Released in 2015 to mixed reviews, Chappie suffers the opposite problem from Demonic. Where the latter squandered an inventive premise by offering a conventional and staid story, Chappie takes an over-used conceit and manages to make a familiar tale too chaotic, overstuffed and uneven. The story sees an android A.I. acquired by small-time crooks who train the robot to help with a heist while the childlike eponymous droid teaches them about themselves. Combining elements of Short Circuit with Wall-E, the plot could have been a cute family film, but Blomkamp instead made Chappie an inexplicably violent, R-rated action film whose tone is not unlike District 9 in terms of intensity and gore.

Casting “love them or hate them” hip hop duo Die Antwoord as main characters were always going to limit Chappie’s appeal somewhat, but Yolandi and Ninja can’t be blamed entirely for the film’s failure to find an audience. Despite solid supporting work from Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver and Dev Patel, Chappie never finds the right balance between tense sci-fi heist movie, cute family adventure or R-rated satirical black comedy. The erratic tonal shifts make it a hard movie to love even though Chappie has more to say than Demonic and, overall, makes for a more enjoyable viewing experience. All told, Chappie is a lesser outing from Neill Blomkamp, although one that did not deserve the outright hostility it received from some critics upon release (something Blomkamp himself claimed years later).

Related: Keanu Reeves Horror Movies, Ranked

Elysium is one of the most politically charged sci-fi thrillers of the 2010s. Taking place in 2154, Elysium sees Matt Damon star as a cybernetically enhanced human who takes on the uber-rich to salvage the denizens of Earth. In the film, Elysium is a luxury space station for the super rich that leaves most of the world’s population in poverty, with the symbolism of it being suspended above the Earth being an unsubtle but undeniably effective satire of class warfare. Unfortunately for Blomkamp, Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer made a similarly pointed but sharper and more consistent cirque of income inequality the same year, meaning many sci-fi fans found Elysium wanting in comparison.

The thriller is overlong and a touch too convoluted to offer the visceral impact of its competitor District 9 (both Sharlto Copley and Jodie Foster make for threatening, very different villains, but the movie does not need both in its overstuffed third act). However, the movie is still a compelling, dark, and often insightful satire that deserved a better reception and had more to say than many of its contemporaries. With the issues highlighted by the movie only worsening in the years since its release and the public appetite for R-rated sci-fi increasing, this is easily Blomkamp's most underrated effort, and almost his best yet.

Blomkamp’s first feature remains his strongest even over a decade after District 9’s original 2009 release. Beginning as a conventional mockumentary, the story is told from the perspective of a casually bigoted government worker who undergoes a life-altering transformation, becoming one of the species that he dismissed as subhuman over the movie's runtime. District 9 deftly weaves together social commentary, character work, and fast-paced, violent action without ever feeling over-ambitious. Funny without being silly, incisive without being bleak and hopeless, and quick-moving without being as tonally muddled as Blomkamp’s later releases, District 9 proves that, at the height of his powers, the helmer has serious potential as a genre filmmaker. Various circumstances ranging from Chappie’s wavering tone to Elysium’s overstuffed story have left the director unable to recapture its initial impact, but there is nonetheless no denying that District 9 showed Blomkamp to be an exciting, innovative director when it arrived and remains his best work so far.

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