Neill Blomkamp is a one-of-a-kind director, with one of the most inventive directorial visions, imaginations, and cinematic approaches. You might be wondering how! Do you know how scientists, inventors, and Iron Man create prototypes before finalising their work?
Blomkamp, likewise, prefers to develop smaller shorts before completing a full-length picture. District 9, his Oscar-nominated feature from 2009, was based on a 2005 short film called Alive in Joburg. The brief film depicts aliens roaming the streets of Johannesburg but they weren’t depicted as villains.
Blomkamp employed documentary filmmaking techniques and improvisational camerawork to depict the bleak truth that lurked behind the surface of reality. Both Alive in Joburg and District 9 are films about aliens who come to Earth with the intention of taking sanctuary rather than dominating the planet or annihilating people.
Blomkamp created Oats Studios in 2017 with the intention of serving as an incubator for fresh ideas, in order to further this mission of independent filmmaking. Oats Studios has previously produced various short films, and their most recent effort is Demonic, a live-action horror feature expected to be released later this year.
The studio makes these videos available for public screening in order to determine whether the project is worth developing into a full-length picture. One such experiment was Zygote.
Let us swiftly get into the who’s who of the picture without further ado.
Zygote revolves around Dakota Fanning as Barklay and Jose Pablo Cantillo as Quinn. Barklay is a synthetic that was created to carry out deep mining operations that had high risks, so even if she died, it was alright.
In one of the scenes, she says,Naturally, her character is very much on the lines of the android named Bishop, that was played by Lance Henriksen in James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens. So, Barklay is essentially honourable, fast to learn, and lives to serve her human master, in this case, Quinn.
Jose Pablo Cantillo has appeared in television shows such as Taken, Standoff, and The Walking Dead. He has also appeared in a number of films, notably Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium from 2013. However, playing alongside Dakota Fanning must have been a dream come true for him.
Quinn, Pablo’s character, is a class one security officer who works in an arctic mining site. Quinn is a quick-witted survivor who is well-versed in his surroundings. But he’s also a generous and caring man, so much so that he doesn’t mind giving Barkl his finger.
No, not sexually; we mean literally.But, of course the star of the show is the hulking monster that assimilated itself using the bodies of 98 of the dead crew members. It’s a uniquely created beast that assimilates with its prey and gains their knowledge.
In this regard, Zygote is pretty similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Furthermore, both Zygote and The Thing are based in claustrophobic and cold environments. Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
The picture begins in what appears to be a derelict mining site. The blaring alarms set the tone for the rest of the film, similar to how a Shakespearean play would open with a dark scene to set the tone for the rest of the play.
How many of you recall Macbeth’s three witches and their prophecy? Only two crew members are said to have survived out of a hundred. But who is responsible for the deaths of the 98 personnel?
In the cold Northwest Territories, an asteroid struck the Earth twenty years before the events in the film. Quartz, a sentient crystalline substance, was found inside. The quartz communicates gigabytes of data via light beams, and this light affects humans to internalise the data.
A personnel named Holebrook cut open and strung together the organs of several pigs before proceeding to do the same with humans. Quinn also had a glimpse of the sentient light, but he immediately cut his eyes out. The film has some gory scenes, like Quinn’s sitting on the floor with empty eye sockets and his eyes lying on the floor.
Sometime after he carved out his eyes, Barklay finds Quinn, and the two of them strive for survival. Quinn doesn’t seem to share the belief of his superiors that the Canary Class or synthetics are inferior to humans.
He orders Barklay to eat and keep herself hydrated. Quinn figures that the monster would ultimately find them at the mining site, or the steam tubes that keep the facility warm would go defunct, and they’d succumb to the cold. He decides that they should travel to the corporate vault, which is strongly armoured and contains a kitchen stocked with food and other supplies. They’d stay there until assistance arrived.
But it’s a long distance to the vault, especially with the freezing ice and a monster with 392 limbs and 98 eyes. Our kid Quinn, on the other hand, is blind. So, in case they meet face to face with the Zygote, he instructs Barklay how to shoot a gun. They exit the mining site and proceed to the corporate vault.
That’s when two of the most beautiful things happen at the same time. The beautiful Dakota Fanning picks up the gun and shoots at what can only be described as one of the most hideous things that ever graced our screens. She empties two entire magazines on it and man! She never seemed to miss even once.
Good job, Fanning! They manage to briefly evade the Zygote and arrive at a large kitchen. Barklay learns from Quinn that her entire life was a lie. She wasn’t a synthetic but a human who was purchased by the company when she was just two weeks old. The company brainwashed her into believing that she was a synthetic.
The scene is nothing lesser than a big blow to mining companies that often take illegal mining operations that often lead to deaths of miners and, in worse cases, more immense tragedies like wildfires. Quinn had seen the light from the sentient alien matter and the effects were now taking a toll on him.
He instructed Barklay to go ahead and go to the corporate vault by herself, wait for aid, and tell the world what her company was up to. But she’ll need the fingerprints of a high-ranking official to get into the company vault. Quinn slashed one of his fingers and handed it to her as a heroic act of sacrifice.
Quinn informs her that the Zygote will eventually find its way to him for integration, and it will be aware of everything Quinn is aware of. Barklay retreats as the Zygote breaches. Zygote, on the other hand, absorbs Quinn’s knowledge and discovers Barklay’s intention to visit the corporate vault.
Barklay gets to the vault gate, but Quinn’s fingerprint won’t open the entrance because he doesn’t have the necessary access. Finally, Dakota plays hide and seek with the alien monster for about five minutes, but Zygote soon catches up.
She manages to shoot it down with the explosive rounds of Quinn’s handgun and then slices one of Zygote’s arms to test the fingerprints of the various fingers that were there on that arm. The short film ends as she enters the secure vault.
Now that she was alone and secure, she must have got time to think about her life and how her past has been one big lie. Can you imagine how your life would change if someone told you that you weren’t a human but a robot? The short film is abundant with subtle symbolism, especially in the names.
As you’d know, a zygote is a fertilized union of a sperm cell from a male and an ovum from a female. It then goes on to develop into a multicellular organism, ultimately growing into several tissues and organs.
Blomkamp’s Zygote does something similar, it takes refuge in one of the crew members and he goes on a killing spree, gradually assimilating and absorbing the body parts of others to become a hideous creature with hundreds of limbs. Furthermore, it has a head that looks like Medusa’s, only that instead of snakes, Zygote has the eyes of its victims.
Second, John Scott Haldane, the father of oxygen therapy. In 1911, he proposed that miners use canaries as sentinels to detect dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide. Canaries are very sensitive to air pollution since they require a large amount of oxygen to maintain their flight.
In a sense, Haldane’s theory was that the small birds were born to die. Barklay, played by Dakota Fanning, is now a canary miner. It implies she and others like her will descend deep into the mines to look for dangerous gases in the asteroid’s depths.
The next one lives deep in mythology. Now, Cerberus was the three-headed hound of Hades, the god of the dead. It was Cerberus’s job to guard the gates of the Underworld and stop the dead from leaving. Blomkamp fittingly named the mining facility Cerberus as Zygote was nothing more than reanimated dead people trying to leave the place.
The three heads of Cerberus often represent the three stages of life, i.e. birth, life and death. This could resemble Barklays’ life as the company bought her as an infant who grew up in the facility, and she could die at any point in time.
One of the most impressive aspects of this short film is that it feels like a segment of a larger film, yet one that is self-contained. Unlike other Oats Studio films such as Zakka, this one is more linear and straightforward in terms of plot.
Zygote, like most of Blompkamp’s work, reeks of corporate skulduggery and some truly terrifying body horror. The Zygote is a 9-foot tall, powerful, heavy, and slow monster that moves to absorb and kill. If you like horror and science fiction films, you’ll have no trouble connecting Zygote to John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Both films have an icy and unforgiving setting, and both the monsters learn everything that their victim knows. And since we’re on the subject, Marvelous Videos deep-dived into John Carpenter’s magnum opus, The Thing.
We’ll leave the link in the description; please do check it out. Coming back to Zygote, it also takes mild inspiration from Ridley Scott’s genre-defining sci-fi horror film Alien. Both Alien and Zygote have references to synthetic humans or robots and how corporations use them.
However, Blomkamp went a step further and gave his synthetic a grim backstory of being an orphan who was bought by a corporation as an infant and made to believe that she was a robot. If they decided to go ahead and turn Zygote into a full-length feature, they could have done great things with Barklay’s character.
With some superb camerawork and direction, the short video looked visually fantastic. The only flaw that remained was the choppy and distorted sound. It kept preventing us from fully immersing ourselves in the film’s atmosphere.
We appreciate that this isn’t a big-budget film, but given that they were able to cast Twilight star Dakota Fanning, they should have spent a little more on sound quality. However, when viewed through the lens of a body horror and sci-fi film, Zygote succeeds and deserves to be recommended.
Although these wonderful creatures perform better with special effects and animatronics, the visual effects are top-notch. The Zygote is an alien made out of human limbs, but it is not at all anthropomorphic; it’s simply a hideous, slow and powerful monster. So, they used a stunt man on stilts for the purpose of cinematization and to give the crew and actors a frame of reference.
Coming to the character development, Quinn’s character gets lost because of how much he tells the audience about the background of the short film. In all the pieces of information that he gives, we overlook what he’s actually going through… apart from the pain he’s undergoing due to his self-inflicted blindness.
However, Quinn is at an absolute loss, not only because he’s become blind but also because he’s aware that his end is near. Furthermore, he may have been disturbed by the slave-like treatment his superiors subjected humans to, but he put up with it nonetheless.
He decided to be the decent man and tell Barklay about her horrific background only after everyone had died. So, in addition to the bodily discomfort, he is also burdened by the weight of his deteriorated morality.
Barklay, on the other hand, was the ideal protagonist for the short film. She was willing to give her life for her code when she believed she was nothing more than a piece of equipment. Even after she discovered she was a human and that Quinn was aware of it, she tried everything she could to save him from an untimely death.
To sum up, we can say that Zygote was a well-made short film that definitely has the potential of being turned into a full-length feature but it suffers from issues that low-budget films usually have.
Also, there are clear signs of resemblance between Zygote and Blomkamp’s other films like Chappie and Elysium. Do give it a watch and let us know how you felt about the short film.