Oats Studios’ third short is also its strongest to date.
Zygote is exclusively available on Steam.
Have you ever walked into a movie late and wondered what you missed? District 9 and Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s Zygote is almost exactly like that. If Zygote was a part of a full length film, then the short is essentially the last 20 minutes or so. It’s definitely good, but there are a lot of pieces missing. (Read our interview with Blomkamp about Zygote and more here.)
Zygote is the third short film released through Blomkamp’s Oats Studios, and it is easily the strongest of the trio to date. While Zygote drops into the story at a very late point in time, Blomkamp is able to get viewers up to speed fairly quickly. The short is set at a mining colony in the future, where a team of 98 crewmembers has been whittled down to only two survivors: a synthetic human named Barklay (Dakota Fanning), and her superior officer, Quinn (Jose Pablo Cantillo). Of the two performers, Cantillo has the harder job because he has to drop the bulk of the exposition and convey the backstory via his interactions with Barklay.
However, that aspect of the short is also its least successful part. Quinn clearly feels guilt for Barklay’s dilemma and what’s been done to her, but it doesn’t really define his role in it. Barklay may be artificial, but Quinn’s characteristics are only on the surface. His voice drives the narrative and yet we learn almost nothing about him and why he’s trying to make amends. Blomkamp tries so hard to create empathy for Barklay that any sympathy for Quinn disappears into the void. On the surface, Quinn’s just the typical action hero who is almost at the end of his rope. His character needed more time and definition.
Fortunately, the opposite is true of Fanning’s Barklay. She gets a very significant amount of screentime and she even has an arc over the course of the short. While struggling to adapt and survive, Barklay has to face some very disconcerting truths about herself and Quinn. And it’s to Fanning’s credit that we see these changes playing out in her facial expressions and body language. Fanning never goes full Ripley, and she doesn’t need to. Because Barklay is her own person and that is one of the things that she has to come to accept by the end of the short.
Which brings us to the creature. That thing was terrifying. Within the short, the monster doesn’t really have a name, but it appears to be stitched up from the body parts of its previous 96 victims. It’s a walking body horror freak show, and it knows everything that its victims knows after absorbing their minds. It’s uncertain if the minds of the creature’s victims live on within that grotesque body, but that would be a fate worse than death. It’s such an unsettling visual that the creature doesn’t lose its power to shock or scare in its limited appearances. The horror may wear off over the course of a feature, but it’s in the short just as much as it has to be. And its handywork is seen throughout the story.
Owing to the modest budgets behind Oats Studios, the early part of the film features Quinn and Barklay sharing a desperate meal together, which gives the story the intimacy of a stage play. Even when Barklay and Quinn are running down corridors together, that feeling never quite goes away. For better or worse, these two characters are bonded by their mutual survival.
The conclusion doesn’t offer up the real closure that the film needs, but it does leave the viewer wanting more. That was Blomkamp’s stated goal and he succeeded in whetting our collective appetites for more. Zygote could easily be expanded into a full length feature, and there would still be room to explore what happened after the end of this story. If the Oats Studios short films are successful, that could actually happen. And if it does, we’ll definitely be in line on opening night.