What’s on the Menu…
Zygote beautifully utilizes one of our all-time favorite dramatic scenarios: An isolated group, faced with no choice but to fend for themselves, battles for survival against a seemingly insurmountable foe. As group members get picked off, one by one, the suspense comes from who dies next, and who, if anyone, survives. John Ford staged it in a desert with World War I soldiers in The Lost Patrol (1934). Ridley Scott placed his band of scrappy victims in deep space, battling an iconic extraterrestrial in 1979’s Alien. With Zygote, director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp borrows heavily from the latter, right down to the ceaseless warning beacons and mechanical PA announcements. It also cuts right to the chase, opening after most of the bloodshed has already occurred:
Stranded in an Arctic mine, two lone survivors are forced to fight for their lives, evading and hiding from a new kind of terror.
So How Does Zygote Taste?
Zygote stars Blomkamp veteran Jose Pablo Cantillo (Elysium, Chappie) and Dakota Fanning. Cantillo is fine, although his terse, grunting speech – he’s in intense pain for every second he’s onscreen – can be a little hard to understand. But Fanning is incredible, absolutely inhabiting her character’s frazzled, go-for-broke gutsiness. And the film’s set acts as an indispensable third performer: the Diefenbunker, a sprawling, decommissioned Cold War-era fallout shelter originally built by the Canadian government in the small town of Carp, Ontario. It now serves as Canada’s Cold War Museum, and has been featured in The Sum of All Fears, among other films.
As one would expect from Blomkamp, the digital effects are impeccable. Zygote gifts sci-fi/horror fans with a unique and fearsome creature, unlike anything you’ve seen before. And it does not skimp on the gore or violence. If this were a feature, the MPAA would almost certainly slap an ‘R’ rating on it.
Blunders and Gaffes
The film spends just a little too much time in its first setting, the mining operation’s thoroughly trashed mess hall. It gets a little talky in parts. And a scene where the two protagonists must put on breathing masks becomes unintentionally funny when both of their masks instantly cloud up – a lot. Like, “I can’t see a damn thing” a lot.
Release Notes for Zygote
Oats Studios has released free versions of Zygote on its YouTube and Facebook pages, but a deluxe downloadable edition, complete with 3D assets, scripts and digital concept art booklet can be purchased for $4.99 on the Steam gaming platform.
Best of all, the short is billed as Volume 1, indicating an ongoing series. We’ll be anxiously awaiting the next installments.