Julien Neaves, Sci Fi Head Writer
Horror anthologies on television have been growing in popularity in the past few years. We have shows like Creepshow, Channel Zero, and Slasher. American Horror Story had season-long anthologies before launching their episodic anthology spin-off American Horror Stories.
But why should horror folks have all the fun? What about Sci Fi anthologies on TV? Well, we’ve had Black Mirror for years, which has lessened in quality in the past few seasons, Jordan Peele’s Twilight Zone reboot, which I haven’t seen but I have been meaning to get to, and Netflix’s excellent animated series Love, Death & Robots. So when I saw Netflix’s Oats Studios pop up on my suggestions I was excited to check it out.
Oats Studios is an independent film studio which was started in 2017 by filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, Chappie) and features experimental short films which originally aired on YouTube and Steam. They are also the studio behind the Sci Fi horror film Demonic which Sommer reviewed back in August (I’ll link that for you guys below).
Returning to Oats Studios on Netflix (and I am sure that bland name is not going to attract ANYONE) we have ten short films (the longest is 26 minutes and the shortest is four) which fall into one of three categories: Sci Fi Horror, hard Sci Fi/Fantasy, and wacky comedy. Yeah, it’s a weird mix and somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of quality. With a MILD SPOILER ALERT let’s dive into it in three blasts:
Blast #1 Wacky Comedy of Cooking With Bill, God, Bad President and Kapture
The comedy shorts will be the most jarring for people coming in expecting a full Sci Fi experience. And it’s easily the least of the apostles when it comes to the three categories in this anthology. We have the Cooking With Bill shorts which are a black comedy take on informercials. These are a one-trick pony with not many laughs being served up. Carly Pope (Popular, Suits, Arrow) features here and in several other shorts, and is a highlight every time she appears.
You’ll see Pope again in the Bad President shorts, which feature crude, irreverent, low-brow comedy about a dumb, hard-partying US president. The Bad President stuff is not that funny or interesting. It also feels the most like an outlier and throws off the overall tone of the anthology.
Thankfully things get better with God and Kapture. In the former frequent Blomkamp collaborator Sharlto Copley plays the almighty, though this version is a callous deity who enjoys reigning death, destruction and calamity upon mankind via his stoic butler. It’s simple and silly but Copley invests the character with a whimsical energy that makes it entertaining.
But the best of the comedy has to be Kapture, which features two amoral scientists trying out extremely deadly futuristic weapons on hapless prisoners. It is super dark, very funny (it gave me a bit of The Cabin in the Woods vibes) and, unlike the other comedy shorts, is fully set in the Sci Fi genre. That’s a triple win for me. So if you want to check out any of the comedy content here then Kapture should definitely capture your attention. Get it? You get it.
Blast #2 Hard Sci Fi/Fantasy Teases of Gdansk, ADAM 2&3 and Rakka
Don’t you hate it when you get teased and teased and there is no payoff? Hey, don’t look at me like that. I’m talking about shows. What are you thinking about? Hmph. Anywho, the problem with this category is they present these visually impressive and interesting worlds but the stories lack any real payoff. These feel more like proofs of concept than fleshed-out films and it’s a bit frustrating.
Let’s start with CGI animated medieval fantasy short Gdansk about a man trying to protect his family from a giant. The animation looks fantastic and there is decent action but at just four minutes (it’s the shortest of all the shorts) the film ends just as you start getting excited.
Then we have the CGI animated Sci Fi ADAM which is set in a dystopian world where humans are turned into android slaves by an organisation called The Consortium. Firstly, why do we only have Episode 2 and 3? What happened to the first episode? Did they forget to upload it? Is it one of those Star Wars: Episode IV-type situations? I need answers.
Like Gdansk, both ADAM episodes feature awesome animation and stellar character design, especially of the titular mysterious android rebel leader. In terms of story Episode 2 feels like it goes nowhere while Episode 3 feels like a mostly complete and surprisingly affecting story, despite ending on a cliffhanger as well.
And finally we get to Rakka. This is the short that opens the anthology and it is movie-level epic. Telepathic reptilian aliens have taken over the world and the humans they haven’t killed are turned into gruesome, mind-controlled slaves. With things this dire and evil aliens running amok who are you gonna call? SIGOURNEY WEAVER! The veteran genre actress plays a human resistance leader and delivers on the strong but brief role. The special effects here are gorgeous, the alien design is very cool and the action is big and wonderfully gore-filled.
The story is split into the resistance fighters on a mission and a mute man and possible messianic figure who survived an alien experiment. The latter storyline goes nowhere but the former is very entertaining if not exactly novel. But again, when things get super interesting it’s time to roll credits. Colour me frustrated. I still enjoyed it, though, and I definitely would be down for a full movie version of Rakka.
Blast #3 Chilling Sci Fi Horror of Firebase and Zygote
The highlight of the anthology has to be the Sci Fi horror entries Firebase and Zygote. These are 12 flavours of awesome sauce! Firebase is set during the Vietnam War and features a soldier on a mission to kill a powerful entity called The River God.
This thing has one badass design and even cooler powers, including psychokinesis and the ability to turn dead soldiers into super creepy insect-like creatures. With its superb special effects, genuine scares and intense action Firebase is worth getting fired up about. Now give me a sequel short or a film version so I can see the epic final showdown.
And finally we come to Zygote. A security guard named John Quinn (Jose Pablo Cantillo of Crank, The Walking Dead) and synthetic labourer Barklay (Dakota Fanning of War of the Worlds, the Twilight films) are the last two survivors of a remote mining outpost which has been decimated by an alien entity. The entity uses a telepathic light to compel humans to collect body parts for its grotesque hodgepodge body and he has amassed quite the body. This thing is pure distilled nightmare fuel (I suspect RMR guest writer Michael Yuka Toshi Richards will be a fan) and is an absolute horror to look at.
The plot is straightforward and it is the great pacing, unrelenting tension and top-notch creature effects that take it over the top.
Oats Studios on Netflix was quite the entertainment rollercoaster. There was stuff I loved, stuff I liked, stuff I was ambivalent about, and some stuff I wondered, “Why are you even here?” But with much more good than meh I would still recommend the anthology. And if they do a Season 2/Volume 2 (at least one story, Prateoria, was never used) I hope Blomkamp and co. do a better job of curating the content.
For more Sci Fi anthology content you can check out my review of Season 2 of Love, Death & Robots below. Or for more from Oats Studios you can check out Sommer’s review of Demonic.
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.