As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media–books, comics, movies, and television–to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

If you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, then you were likely heartbroken to hear that Neill Blomkamp’s plan for a series of films that took place after the second movie–and featuring not-dead versions of Newt and Hicks–had been scrapped.

But while Ridley Scott continues to crap out prequels to smear over his original masterpiece, Blomkamp decided to try something different, instead. During the summer of 2017, he began using his experimental film lab, Oats Studios, to release short concept films online to gauge fan interest in those ideas becoming feature films.

While all of Oats Studios’ output has been enjoyable, the best one so far is Zygote, a horrific sci-fi short featuring Jose Pablo Cantillo, Dakota Fanning, and terrifying creature made out of various human bodies.

The Plot

The film opens in an Arctic mining facility run by a company called Cerebus (obvious red flag). It’s clear something very bad has happened, which a bit of electronic text confirms by informing us that 98 crew members are dead and only two are still alive.

One of those crew members, a raspy-voiced man named Quinn (Cantillo), appears to be mentally and physically on his last leg. He’s also gouged both his eyes out. The other crew member, Barklay (Fanning), seems hellbent on keeping Quinn alive, going so far as to say that her purpose is to do so that he can live.

Intermingled between their arguments about social hierarchies, secret histories, and how to operate a really big gun, it’s revealed that something is chasing them. Something so horrible that Quinn stabbed out his own peepers so that it couldn’t get inside his head.

Still less painful than watching The Mist television series.

Unfortunately, the pair’s pursuer is both relentless and smart, thanks in large part to brains of their coworkers that have been absorbed by the creature. The creature not only knows the base’s layout, but also knows them.

When Quinn sacrifices himself to save Barklay, she’s left looking for a way to escape or defeat an unbeatable organism whose sole purpose is to find and assimilate her into itself.

What Works

The monster in Zygote is literally one of the most disgusting and terrifying film creatures I have ever seen. In addition to some great effects work, Blomkamp deftly utilizes the creature’s biology in ways that move the story forward and while also making you want to curl up in a ball and hide.

Example: Below is a gif of the zygote using multiple hands/fingers as it attempts to unlock one of the buildings Quinn and Barklay escaped into. It’s both impressively practical and absolutely blood curdling.

Animated GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is the type of monster that doesn’t care if you know it’s coming. It fully expects to catch you no matter how fast or far you run. Also, the sound the creature makes still haunts my dreams. Imagine 98 people stepping barefoot on a Lego and their screams being dubbed together over nails scraping a chalkboard.

Then make it somehow even worse.

That’s the sound you get when the lumbering murder machine made of dead miners come bursting through the door with a hankering for your sweet, sweet brain juice.

As far as the humans in the film go, it should go without saying that Dakota Fanning is one hell of a great actress. She imbues Barklay with the perfect mix of bewildered terror and survival-induced badassery. It’s a character you can both relate and aspire to (and be profusely thankful that you are not in her current predicament).

I wasn’t a huge fan of Castillo’s work in this one, but upon further reflection, the guy really does deserve a lot of credit for portraying such an emotionally charged character without the benefit of his eyes.

What Doesn’t

A lot of the story’s exposition either drags on too long or gets overshadowed by just how awesome/horrifying the zygote is. There appears to be an intriguing story behind what we’re seeing, but Fanning and Castillo did more than enough to make me care about their characters without a compressed/convoluted backstory involving synthetic people, social hierarchies, and secret births…

…and seriously, who can concentrate on that type of stuff when one of these is bearing down on you?

Also, I get that the ending is supposed to be vague and leave us wanting more, but I think we deserved a little more than what we got (especially you consider the the underwear and pants I had to change out of once it all was over).

The Verdict

Those minor quibbles aside, Zygote is a bite-sized masterpiece. While most of us would love to see it turned into a feature, the team behind the film should be applauded for generating so much story and terror in such a short time frame.

Is it good?
Zygote is a bite-sized masterpiece, delivering more scares and story than most full length films.
The monster is one of the most terrifying creatures you can imagine.
Dakota Fanning imbues her character with the perfect mix of bewildered terror and survival-induced badassery.
The special effects are great--much better than you'd expect (or we typically see) for a short film project.
A lot of the story's exposition either drags on too long or gets overshadowed by just how awesome/horrifying the zygote is.

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