From Oats Studios and director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) comes a stunning short film of sci-fi monstrosity and survival–the tense and claustrophobic Zygote. From the outset, audiences are thrust into this terrifying world with little preparation for the horrors that follow. The film takes place in a mining colony in the Arctic Circle; a horizontal ticker at the bottom of the screen informs us that of the original 98 crew-members, only 2 are remaining. Frightened, synthetic human Barklay (Dakota Fanning) learns from her superior officer, a blinded and wounded man named Quinn (Jose Pablo Cantillo), of the chaos that has descended upon their group. Among other expository details, Quinn desperately relays the news of the creature that stalks the colony, a freakish monster made up of the body parts of the dead crew-members. Quinn’s description pales in comparison to the confrontation with the creature itself; when it appears onscreen, coming after both Barklay and Quinn with sickening rage, your heart will hammer joyfully in your chest. Zygote is a fun, pulse-pounding, 22-minute rollercoaster ride of adrenaline and terror that never lets up.
But before the creature appears, actors Fanning and Cantillo must carry the picture and keep the audience engaged. Through Cantillo’s manic delivery of dialogue written by Blomkamp (along with Thomas Sweterlitsch and Terri Tatchell), and through Fanning’s panicked body language and will to survive, the film maintains momentum and a fast pace. Even in the exposition, the script is taut and sharp, with not a word wasted. Later, as Barklay discovers the grisly remnants of the creature’s killing spree, the action takes over and she must use her newly-acquired skills to survive. In these final scenes, filled with darkness and sudden flashes of jarring light, Mannie Ferreira’s cinematography masterfully captures just enough carnage to keep the intensity at full-scale. Loren Balfe’s score and the haunting sound design contribute to the nerve-jangling strength of the film. As the short concluded, I was disappointed only in that I didn’t want it to end.
Neill Blomkamp’s Zygote merges several genres–science fiction, survival horror, body horror, and suspense–and the end result is nothing short of a blast. In the film’s limited running time, Quinn and Barklay become characters that we root for and care about; Fanning, in particular, balances her character’s inexperience with the universal desire to live, a combination that is both relatable and realistic. And the film’s final image suggests that Barklay’s horrifying struggles have only just begun.
The official YouTube channel for Oats Studios, where you can watch Zygote along with other short films by Blomkamp and his crew, can be found here. With tremendous performances and a creature that will fuel your nightmares, Zygote demonstrates that this summer’s greatest cinematic chills might not be found in the movie theater after all.