While I am sure Denis Villeneuve will give him a run for his money this fall with the release of his Blade Runner 2049, Neil Blomkamp has become my favorite visionary for science fiction. His depiction of the genre has created a new standard for realism and a sense that it is no longer something that is just “out there”. His subjects, both organic and mechanic, are a part of our own modern world, its problems and its technology to the extent that once aliens are involved, the imagery feels more like something you learn about in your international studies class than it does Star Trek. There is less focus on the galactic, and more on grounded, objective settings, primarily in our own dilapidated urban areas. His production design is so distinct because it looks so similar to our own industrialization. But when his imagined technology is put to use and interacted with, that is when you see the creative magic.
Recently, Blomkamp has made his new independent studio, Oats, public and has released a number of pieces under this production. Some of them are short films while the others are satirical infomercials – but all of them are statements on the creative content and messaging he intends to make, now freed from the saturation of Hollywood’s rules. You will immediately understand why the atmosphere of the Oats shorts was not present in his theatrical releases. It is utterly bleak and hopeless.
In Rakka, we experience the putrid desolation of Earth after the takeover of a reptilian-like alien species that then completely infests and pollutes the planet like a plague. Firebase is about the CIA cover up of a supernatural event during the Vietnam War, and is a great tonal fit with the conspiracy theory culture of the 1960s. In God, humanity becomes the punch line for the whim of a deity, played by Sharlto Copley resting in a lounge armchair. The last one I mentioned, which is more of a vignette, perhaps most succinctly conveys what Blomkamp is trying to express in his new works: humanity is completely helpless and at the whim of much more malevolent forces and in the least romantic fashion possible.
In my opinion, you do not watch Oats for entertainment, you watch it to see what he has envisioned next, and then perhaps move on. These short films do not feel accessible; they create a very strong sense of foreboding, as if they want the viewer to approach cautiously. His visuals do not beckon or invite – they repulse and they scare, almost repelling your viewership.
I am morbidly fascinated sometimes. My bread and butter is a dark, violent drama – something that you specifically don’t watch on date night if you want to be romantic. When I saw people in Blomkamp movies pop like balloons as they got zapped with modern alien weaponry, it was honestly the coolest thing I’d seen in sci-fi action. I hadn’t seen it done like that before. But what he’s doing with Oats is something further. This is indulgent in the most hellish imagery I have seen in a long time – some of which is used satirically, which I can appreciate. But it’s just so goddamn revolting. He spares no opportunity to display the most graphic abominations and carnage, like he’s going out of his way to do so.
You watch and think, nothing about this is welcoming at all. It’s almost like he’s trying to convince me not to watch. With District 9 and even Elysium, there was this sense of wonder and adventure as he gave us his own allegories for the problems that humanity has, but one of his Oats shorts is about a humiliated cooking show host forcing himself to eat sushi made with human hair. I mean, come on. But I get it. Perhaps it’s clearest in these satirical infomercials, as uncomfortable to watch as they are. That’s the point. This is his unique and effective way to subvert and defy what is considered acceptable by Hollywood standards and mainstream media as a whole.
I still respect Neil for doing what he wants to do. As do others, as you’ll see the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Dakota Fanning in these releases. The production quality is outstanding – it is just dedicated to something that really is not for everyone. That being said, I will still watch every single piece he releases, even if only once each.