Director Neill Blomkamp says that the audience reaction to his 2015 film, Chappie, is problematic. The sci-fi filmmaker of cult hits like District 9 and Elysium, as well as a series of shorts from his own Oats Studios, was devastated by the reception to Chappie and didn’t step back into features again until 2021 with his latest release, Demonic. Chappie starred Sharlto Copley, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Dev Patel and the lead members of the rap group Die Antwoord, Yolandi Visser and Ninja.
Chappie revolves around a police droid in the future who becomes sentient and is used for criminal purposes, while it comes to grips with its newfound “life.” With a $49 million dollar budget and a wide release, the film made a total gross of $102 million worldwide and scored a 32 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Blomkamp has said that Chappie’s failure was “unbelievably painful” in the past and is now sharing another perspective on the project.
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Speaking to Uproxx, Blomkamp says that he wasn’t stung by the critical reaction, but was rather “not into the audience not liking it” and that their rejection of it was more problematic. Blomkamp went on to explain that the conversation of Chappie is “always cloaked in negativity” and that that particular point of view is locked in place. Ultimately, the director believes that audiences simply didn’t get the dual, experimental tone of “pop, color lunacy” mixed with serious questions about the nature of existence. Read Blomkamp’s full quote below:
“Well, I think any conversation about it is just always cloaked in negativity somehow. And I think people have a point of view of a film and it just locks in place and that’s the way that it is. So most of my interactions to do with it are quite, marginally negative, I would say. I think it was a case of misunderstanding the tone — or me not presenting the tone correctly and them rejecting it. But it’s all good. I mean, it’s like, you have to experiment.”
Blomkamp has struggled to get a number of high-profile projects off the ground since Chappie, including sequels to a few popular sci-fi franchises that never came to fruition. In forming Oats Studios, Blomkamp sought to create crowd-funded features, but the endeavor never took off, despite a healthy library of interesting and well-received experimental short films. With Demonic, his first feature since Chappie, the tonal quality seems to be more focused and in-line with the horror genre, rather than the genre-bending he’s done with sci-fi in the past.
One of the more exciting and innovative directors working today, Blomkamp has long-teased a sequel to his biggest hit, District 9, saying that a sequel would be more “stripped down and bare bones.” It’s disappointing that Blomkamp was unable to move forward with his planned sequels to Aliens (a direct sequel to James Cameron’s film) and Robocop (a direct sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s original), but he continues to push forward with new ideas and concepts, such as Chappie, that are far more intriguing than the run-of-the-mill genre pieces. While it would be interesting to see him tackle a more commercial project, it’s likely he’ll stick to his pattern of original content and the planned District 9 sequel, District 10.