Examine Dem Shorts! Zygote: The Monster that Gained the Upper Hand


According to the Webster-Merriam dictionary, a zygote is a “cell formed by the union of two gametes; the developing individual produced from such a cell”– basically, it’s the stage of reproduction when two things become one. In a short 22-minute film with the same name, human and monster become one, creating a suspenseful sci-fi horror flick fun for whole family! Just kidding about that last part…do not show this to your kids.

Zygote was made by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, known for creating District 9 (favorably), Elysium, and Chappie (less favorably). The short is part of a film project produced by Blomkamp’s Oats Studio as a way to experiment with ideas and test audience reactions for potential feature films. I haven’t seen the three other shorts in this Volume 1 collection, but I would definitely pay to see a longer, more developed adaptation of Zygote.

Some critics have compared this short to a combination of The Thing and Alien. In an interview, Blomkamp’s responded to the questioned influence:

Probably more The Thing for this particular film. Its DNA is a kind of ‘80s leviathan, science fiction horror.

Personally, I would say it’s more like a galactic-zombie Frankenstein combo.

The story begins in an asteroid mine located in the Arctic Circle. The mine is owned by Cerebus Minerals, a wealthy corporation gleaning from the mysterious resources inside the asteroids. We learn quickly that an accident occurred, taking the lives of 98 members of the crew and leaving only two survivors. With limited supplies and a horrific monster hunting them down, Barklay (Dakota Fanning) and the blinded Quinn (Jose Pablo Cantillo) must hurry to safety before they are absorbed.

There are many things I liked about this film, but my favorite element was the character design of the monster. It looked like something out of a Resident Evil game– horrifying yet mesmerizing to watch. It was an amalgamation of countless arms and eyeballs collected from the crew, occasionally screeching, occasionally groaning in multiple voices. The Zygote creature was the thing of nightmares. Apparently, that’s what Blomkamp had in mind when he first conceived this film.

I don’t know what made me think of it, but I wrote down “a monster made out of men.”

This is typically the point I would add a picture of the monster, but I’ll let your imagination play until you see the reveal in the short film.

Another component of this film I enjoyed was the setting. Even though the monster was slow-moving, the tight and dimly lit corridors of the mines provided a claustrophobic and suspenseful element to the action.


Dakota Fanning was a great choice for the role of Barklay, the female protagonist. I reviewed a film a couple months ago called Brimstone starring Fanning and I’m glad to see her frontier film wasn’t just fluke. She really is talented– her use of body language helps her to steal the screen, even when she doesn’t have any dialogue.


One thing that didn’t really work for me was the execution of the exposition. In the first five minutes Quinn basically tells spouts out everything at once- what’s chasing them, how it was created via experimentation and mysterious ET stuff, where they need to go, and a little social class discussion. There’s a lot of info. Granted, this is a short film so I understand it was probably best to get all of that out of the way, but it just happened very quickly. I imagine if Blomkamp does decide to make this into a feature he could definitely stretch this foundation out for a solid hour of showing, instead of telling.

Welp, that’s all I got. A bunch of Youtube commenters think there’s a glaring plothole at the end. I was too satisfied to bother with such a trifle. Anyway, here’s the film. What do you think of the ending?


Examine Dem Shorts! The Rooster: A Russian Romp About Death and Poultry

To my friends, enemies, frenemies, and the ilk,

Before I start my film review this week, I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to do things a bit different from here on out. Recently I’ve found myself with a huge time management problem—not that I’m procrastinating (okay…maybe a little), or being lazy (also…maybe a little), but I’m finding it hard to balance a full-time job, applying to grad school, writing a short story, getting involved in social justice, maintaining a social life, managing two diseases (depression and hypothyroidism), and doing this blog. I admit, more than half of that was/is my choice, including these film reviews, and I guess this is my way of saying rather cliché-ly, I bit off more than I could chew. To compromise, I’m going to continue doing weekly film reviews, if anything, to strengthen my endurance—the only difference is I’m going to be reviewing short films instead of feature-length films.

And now, let me introduce to you my new series:


The Rooster by Alexey/Aleksey/Alexei (Yeah…it’s a weird Russian name that nobody seems to know how to spell) Nuzhny.

Shortoftheweek.com summary:

A 20-minute short comedy about a working-class Russian girl, Anya, desperately trying to cure her depression by falling in love with… a Rooster.

IMDB summary:

After the death of Anya’s lover she has no reason to live. Suddenly she comes across a rooster who is a spitting image of her late lover. She decides to build a proper romantic relationship with this rooster in spite of that everything and everyone are against it.


No, it’s not an animated film; this is just the logo for the Russian production company, “Life Is Short.” It fits well with the creative project, being creative itself. Within a few seconds, it juxtaposed the multi-layered phrase “life is short” [short also being a pun for a company that makes short films] with a comical image like a chicken. A good start!



Not even a minute in and someone is writing a suicide note on a mirror. Welcome to the joyful pit of despair that is dark comedy. On a sidenote, a plus-size lead actress is damn refreshing. Valentina Mazunina, who plays Anya, does a great job creating a believable character who is suffering from a loss, and does so with a flair of comedy that doesn’t make you feel bad for laughing at someone’s bizarre coping mechanisms.



In Mother Russia, chicken ask you, “Why did the human cross the road?”

Visually, this film is remarkable. I was genuinely surprised by the amount of artistry seen in every scene. The small attention to detail in the cinematography gives more depth to the story than most feature films do with an hour of dialogue. In the screenshot above, you don’t even need to know the story to understand there is an intimate connection between the rooster and the woman (if you don’t see it at first glance, look harder).



When a film makes fun of itself, I typically get a good laugh like I did when I saw the English subtitles above. It also brings about an element of meta-reference.

Here’s the song:

While it plays, prepare to laugh in awkwardness. #bestiality




That look on your face when someone tells you they want to marry a rooster:



Great wide angle and semi-symmetry. Although Anya’s problems seem big, in this moment she’s quite small and in the hands of nature; nature being a symbol of death and chaos. The sea can also be seen as a symbol of sadness. It’s an appropriate setting for her to finally face and accept the death of her love.








For a moment I actually forgot I was watching a short and was shocked the climax came so quickly, but it was satisfying and didn’t feel abrupt in any way. As it ended I thought to myself, “Ah…this is a short film” and immediately watched it again.


The Rooster was written and directed by Aleksey Nuzhny, who also directed the famous short Envelope (2012) starring Kevin Spacey and winner of the Jameson Shot Competition. According to the Life Is Short website, The Rooster was screened at 65 film festivals worldwide and won 16 awards.

In the review, “‘The Rooster’ Provides an Innovative Twist on the Stages of Grief,” Gabriel Ricard writes

It is hard for her to accept that her lover is gone and the only way for her to have the physical connection she so desperately desires is by believing Petya’s soul lives inside of an animal. This is the definition of the first stage of grief: denial.

Ricard dissects the film, illustrating how Anya experiences the grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Because she displays these stages out of order and with varying degrees, I feel like the treatment of grief was handled very organically.

What can I say? This film made me glad I decided to switch to shorts. It had just enough wit, humor, and thought-provoking material to keep me invested from start to finish. I highly recommend The Rooster and, being only 20 minutes, I think everyone has time to watch it. I mean…c’mon…that’s not even half an episode of Law & Order. Check it out below and tell me what you think!