The #scifi genre happens to be one of the few able to work hand-in-hand with other genres. It's also extremely expansive in the sense that no premise seems too "out there." Over a span of decades, the genre has advanced at an unprecedented rate, leaving little room for mistakes. By mistakes, I mean a lack of innovation. Moviegoers are sick and tired of seeing the world under attack by an unknown alien species that just so happens to resemble the design of another alien species in yet another been-there-done-that sci-fi movie. Bring us something new, or we won't see your movie (cough, cough, Independence Day: Resurgence...damn, the pollen is out of control this year).
South-African director Neill Blomkamp is a genre innovator. His directorial debut, District 9, not only introduced us to a horrifying, prejudice-infested dystopian future, but also made us sympathize with cockroach-looking aliens from outer space. Unfortunately, based off of public opinion, Mr. Blomkamp's reputation is trapped in purgatory, alongside M. Night Shyamalan's once outstanding career. Elysium, the Robbin Hood-esque, futuristic action movie starring Matt Damon, and Chappie, the coming-of-age story concerning the outcome of one man's artificially-intelligent creation falling in the hands of worthless, bad-mouthed criminals, were judged harshly both by critics and the public.
A New Beginning
After his unsuccessful third movie, Blomkamp wanted to try something completely different. Thus, Oats Studios was born. What's so interesting and smart about the studio, is that it was created with the intention to distribute short films via YouTube and Steam, in order to gauge the community for interest as to which of them are viable for expansion into feature films. Not only do these shorts rock, but they are 100% free. Rakka, the first of the four shorts of Season One, follows a group of rebels whose world had been enslaved by telepathic aliens that look like an alligator mated with a king cobra, while Firebase offers an alternate reality during the Vietnam war.
The most recent entry of Season One is Zygote, which offers one of the most horrifying, nightmare-inducing creatures I have ever seen in a horror movie, let alone a science-fiction movie. Zygote drops us face first into what appears to be the conclusion of a two-hour movie. Barkley (played by a now older and more mature Dakota Fanning), an orphan who believes that she was born to die, and her sightless "acquaintance" Quinn (played by Jose Pablo Cantillo), have been on the run from some genetically altered monster on the loose. We don't know what this monster looks like, we don't know what it's capable of, but what we do know is...well, nothing really.
Whatever 'It' Is, We Want More
Most of the exposition and the mystery revolving around the disappearance of 96 members of the Cerberus Minerals base comes directly from Quinn's dialogue. Neill Blomkamp recently spoke with IGN concerning Zygote and Season 2 of Oats Studios. He expanded upon Barkley and Quinn's odd relationship by explaining that Quinn, before s**t hit the fan, was employed by Cerberus:
"He's a security guy that makes sure that the synthetic humans do their job; which is like 23 hours of manual labor every day, day in and day out. And to put down revolutions within the mine. If there are synthetic workers that turn on the corporate managerial guys, the security guys like Quinn would go in and put that revolt down."
Now that Quinn comes face-to-face with death, he empathizes with Barkley. It is also hinted that Barkley was taken from or sold by her parents to grow up thinking that she was synthetically created to die. These "synthetics" are used as guinea pigs to explore asteroids, but because of the deadly methane-based gas they release, most of them would walk right into their own demise. Hell, this world makes ours look like a walk in the park. The monster that hunts them was visualized by Blomkamp on a flight between Vancouver and Toronto. He was thinking of potential horror movie ideas when he thought "a monster made of men," who could also take control of peoples' minds through light.
Unfortunately, as of right now, Zygote is only a 20 minute short. I have so many questions that I need answered, but that's not to say that they never will be.
Is A Feature Length Zygote On The Way?
Continuing his conversation with IGN, Bomkamp mentions the challenge Oats had to face with Zygote. While his other shorts felt more nonlinear and documentary-style, Zygote literally felt like 20 minutes was taken out of a feature length movie, but that was his plan all along:
"If you think of these 20-minute pieces as snapshots of the world of "fill in the blank," there's a really interesting problem to solve in "how do you show the audience the greatest amount of the snapshot of that world?” How do we, at Oats, convey what we're trying to convey in this roughly 20-minute window? What gives the audience enough of an idea that if you were to go to see a feature film of this, this is kind of what the world would be like? And that poses an interesting conundrum. Because you can go down the road we went down in "Rakka" where you tell a nonlinear, borderline documentary piece about the world and what's happened to it. Or you can do something like "Zygote," where it very explicitly feels like someone sliced 20 minutes out of the film."
Again, Oats Studios was created with the intention of developing these shorts into feature length films if the audience's reception was genuinely positive. And, spoiler alert, they are!
What's Next For Oats?
Blomkamp has already confirmed that a second season is on its way, but that the first was where he wanted to focus most of his budget. He has a weird cooking show short, an unreleased puppet show he "doesn't know what to do with" and 60 to 80 more minutes of other footage. The final installment in Season One, titled Lima, does not yet have a release date. Unlike the other shorts, Lima will be more of a "conspiracy thriller," according to Blomkamp.
Keep 'em coming, Neill. This is some of your best work, and as a devoted fan of yours, I'm loving Oats and its experimental output.