‘Oats Studios’ is an anthology of science fiction and horror pieces on Netflix that brings us closer to the most stimulating face of the genre
You may have already seen the content of this Volume 1 of ‘Oats Studios’ that Netflix premieres: all these shorts are on the studio’s website on YouTube, as well as on Steam. It is an interesting experiment that set up a filmmaker as curious as he is respected, Neill Blomkamp, responsible for ‘District 9’, ‘Elysium’ or ‘Chappie’, and with which he wanted to reach a very particular agreement with the audience.
The company would release shorts for free, and viewers could support the project both by crowdfunding (although the shorts would still come out without a cut) like buying through Steam kind of DLCs that were actually assets with 3D models and resources to edit special effects. Blomkamp’s idea was to set up a collaborative project outside the big studios.
The filmmaker is known for being able to build this type of project independently and recycling material from others in which it is embarked. For example, ‘District 9’ was born from the embers of a frustrated project to adapt ‘Halo’. Blomkamp has never had any luck with the big studios: projects to resurrect ‘Aliens’ and ‘Robocop’, no less, have ended up frustrated.
The Oats Studios project took the long-awaited leap forward with ‘Demonic’, secretly shot during the pandemic, in a curious mix of satanic possessions, James Wan-style horror and malefic virtual realities. It has been a real box office disaster (although the budget has not been made public) and critics have not received it especially well. For now, the future of Oats Studios is unknown, but Netflix collects, in a more comfortable format than the confusing site from the studio on Youtube, all the shorts that have shot until today, under the package titled Vol. 1.
A bit of everything
And how about the shorts themselves? The feeling it gives is that of a project that starts out strong (logically, looking to impress potential mycs) with the best product in the pack, ‘Rakka’ and from there it deflates until it reaches an exclusively animated and not very lucid final section, or directly at the level of a technical demo: an exhibition of visual muscle with practically no plot anchor. Keep in mind that Netflix has grouped different shorts that were originally separated on several occasions, such as ‘God’ or ‘Kapture’, and has rearranged them.
In any case, let’s focus on the positive, which is abundant: ‘Rakka’ is a post-apocalyptic story starring Sigourney Weaver in which humanity faces a reptilian alien race that is modifying our atmosphere. It is a very violent piece, very pessimistic and dark, and that triumphs when Blomkamp shows the effects of the transformation of our planet, or extravagances such as the reconstruction of iconic monuments with human corpses. The creatures are awesome and so are the effects.
Even stranger, and with a much more obvious political message, is ‘The military base’, in which it takes us to the Vietnam War, where a series of inexplicable phenomena take place: soldiers who rise in the air until they disappear, incomprehensible vehicles, jumps in time and space and an entity that seems to be to blame for everything, the River God. Both this piece and ‘Rakka’ are almost presentations of a bigger adventure, not exactly trailers, because they have their own narratives, but the truth is that their stories are completely open.
Something like this happens with the third great short of the package, ‘Cigoto’, a clear rehash of ‘Alien’ and ‘La cosa’ que stands out thanks to a fascinating creature that literally appropriates the bodies of the fallen in a space base. Again we have a wonderful adventure that makes sense on its own but clearly belongs to a larger fiction. This is a problem? If you are looking for closed stories, of course, but I think the correct approach to Oats Studios is another.
The shorts that Blomkamp proposes must be approached to peck at very specific visual stimuli. The creatures of ‘Cigoto’ or ‘Rakka’, the feverish imagination without sense of ‘The military base’, the almost experimental science-fiction ideas that score all the pieces … you don’t have to look for closed stories, because in that sense are disappointing, but rather that spirit of buying DLCs that Blomkamp proposed, and staying with the most stimulating ingredients of each short (especially considering that its diffusion was free). Personally, I prefer twenty minutes of monsters and crazy ideas from start to finish than a screenwriter worried about closing all the plots at that time.
And the rest? There is everything: some frankly deficient (‘Bad president’ or ‘Kapture’ did not make me funny), others who are promising but fall victims of their own labyrinth of proposals (the ‘ADAMs’, too cryptic for their own good), and pieces like ‘Dios’, ‘Cocinando con Bill’ or ‘Gdansk’, which have specific hits if, again, closed narratives are not sought. The whole is frankly interesting, and of course A must for those passionate about pecking science fiction themes and ideas aside from the blockbuster of the day. A stimulating experiment of which I hope we see more volumes.