Gaia (2021)

Director: Jaco Bouwer

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Starring: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi, Elaine Apruzzese

My review of Gaia was first published at Bloody Good Screen..

Injured during a routine surveillance mission, park ranger Gabi (Monique Rockman) is saved by a survivalist duo. Living a post-apocalyptic lifestyle, Stefan (Alex van Dyk) and his father Barend (Carel Nel) have a mysterious relationship with nature, although there’s a greater threat lurking in the wilderness.

An ominous score plays over a drone-shot of the wilderness, as director Jaco Bouwer utilises an eye-catching style for his South African eco-horror. The foreboding sight of mushroom spores point to oncoming horror, be it small instances of vegetation growing out of a living body or the larger horrors of floral zombies. Likened to the creatures from The Last of Us, each aspect of these blind creations is visually impressive and spine-chilling. From their movements to the accompanying sound effects, these creepy beings are a high-point.

Tertius Kapp’s screenplay delivers rightfully bleak musings on humanity, offering no easy answers or dismissals over where this treatment of mother Earth is leading towards. It’s a vital wake-up call, although it feels like a message made without a film to hold audiences’ attention. Take the human nature showcased in-between the horror, these elements which should work ultimately drag on.

Gabi’s arrival brings a tug-of-war over Stefan, as her encouragements to see the wider world clashes with Barend’s lost faith in it. Stefan has an interest in the world he was born outside of, further piqued by a shared attraction with the park-ranger, yet his father knows how to keep him in line. As Barend becomes increasingly unhinged, his rants about the wider world are tiresome inclusions done better in other films. It’s unfortunate, as these elements bring down a feature with strong messaging and effective horror.