GAIA (2021) Reviews and overview of ecological survivalist horror

 

Gaia is a 2021 South African horror film set in a primordial forest where a park ranger encounters two survivalists living a post-apocalyptic lifestyle.

Directed by Jaco Bouwer from a screenplay written by Tertius Kapp, the movie stars Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk and Anthony Oseyemi.

Plot:

In an ancient forest, something has been growing. Something older than humanity itself, and perhaps greater too. When a park ranger discovers a man and his son living wild, she stumbles onto a secret that is about to change the world.

On a surveillance mission in a primordial forest, a park ranger encounters two survivalists living a post-apocalyptic lifestyle. The boy and his philosophical father seem to have their own religion and a mysterious relationship to nature.

There are many suspicious aspects to their existence, but when the cabin is attacked by strange, post-human beings one night, she learns that there is a greater threat in this emergent wilderness…

Reviews:

“Its folklore is made tactile in an impressive, innovative way. While pacing does tend to sag in parts, the respectable lack of handholding compensates. While it’s not the most accessible type of narrative, nor entirely new, it lures you in with its awe-inspiring sense of wonder and mythical world-building.” Bloody Disgusting

“Almost all of the extremely limited action comes from dream sequences full of hazy cinematic sights, with Gabi bolting upright in her makeshift bed more times than one hand can count. It takes a taxing intellectual investment to tap into the sap trickling from Gaia’s tree of suggestive dread, as the slim script drowns in dreaminess rather than hitting hard with tangible terror.” Culture Crypt

“As a captivating, disturbing eco-horror film, Gaia works incredibly well. Carel Nel plays an exquisitely effective swamp person, and the overall experience is not one that most viewers will forget anytime soon. Just don’t expect a deep exploration of humanity’s relationship with nature or anything; those aspects fall a bit flat.” Film Pulse

“Director Jaco Bouwer and writer Tertius Kapp have created an uneasy, atmospherically potent, and visually astounding look at Mother Earth taking vengeance […] Everything about Gaia, from its garbled synthetic score, steady pace (that knows when it’s time to reveal more information), and trippy presentation, evokes an unsettling fear. Gaia might not leave a profound impact, but it’s assuredly a spellbinding, nightmarish journey.” Flickering Myth

Gaia is a film meant for the adventurous viewer who likes a little trippy weirdness in their horror […] Some are going to find themselves lost in the trees once the film shifts focus from monsters in the woods to a more philosophical terror, but for those willing to patiently wait for the seed at the center of the film to grow, the payoff is one that will leave you in awe.” Killer Horror Critic

“Where Gaia truly excels is in its striking, poetic visuals. The film opens on an aerial shot of the forest canopy that sways and squirms in an unsettling dance that makes Nature seem anything but natural […] The creature designs are similarly disturbing. The viewer realizes immediately who and what these beings are, but that doesn’t make them any less horrific.” Nightmarish Conjurings

“Ambitious, but never outreaching its grasp, Gaia is a rock solid eco-horror in the vein of The Ruins, but with much loftier ideas. Bouwer’s direction and intermittently flashy visuals help to sell screenwriter Tertius Kapp’s bold choices, while the main cast commit fully to their roles in ways that some may have balked at in the hands of less confident leadership.” Screen Anarchy

“Gaia is a dazzling bio-horror excursion from the opening minute where cinematographer Jorrie van der Walt inverts his camera to sell glassy river reflections of dense treelines as to distort stabilization, in one of many choice stylistic maneuvers. Alarm heightens as a pulsating red light against blackened backdrops amplifies the beating heart within Gaia’s barky husk, cementing the visual proficiency of this sometimes hunt-and-stalk, sometimes parasitic, always damning advocation for cleaner lifestyles.” Slash Film

Release date:

Gaia premiered at the 2021 virtual SXSW festival in the Midnighters selection.

Gaia will be released theatrically in the USA by Decal on June 18th and On-Demand on June 25th 2021.

Director’s statement:

“It is sometimes difficult to keep contemplating and discussing the issues we face regarding the continuation of life on this planet, as we pollute the oceans, cause mass deforestation and release ever-increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to an increase in temperature, turbulent weather and hurtling the planet towards crisis.

A week into filming, production was halted due to the outbreak of COVID. We had to stop filming and were only able to pick up three months later. Suddenly what was fiction became a strange form of reality and a pre-apocalyptic film started to resonate more with cast and crew. We experience a searing grief and horror when the collapse flickers into view. We find it very difficult to contemplate, to think the unthinkable, to navigate the almost unbearable feelings which arise in each of us.

I don’t think the performances in Gaia would’ve had the same emotional undercurrent if it wasn’t for the pandemic and its interruption into our work. My vision, to construct a paranoid chamber piece about trust, betrayal, and survival, was subconsciously fed by this new, added sense of fear and uncertainty during that first outbreak of the Coronavirus in the beginning of 2020.

Gaia became a portrait of theological paranoia: what is to become of humanity once it discovers it has been expelled from Eden? Or, even more: that Eden itself has expelled it, turned against it, and is taking its revenge? In a sense, it’s a reverse horror film – the outside world is scary, but the real enemy is inside. Straddling the line between fantasy and reality, we are left to wonder how much of the characters’ monstrous vision of nature is real, and how much is a psychotic vision. Their descent into madness is a desire for chaotic salvation, a desire to become animal, a gospel that replicates like a disease. Here lies the core of the film.

Gaia is an ecological horror, a survivalist drama which unfolds into a Biblical horror resonating with the Abrahamic tale of The Binding. Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac is a potent metaphor of the current state of the politics of ecology. Humanity, empowered to alter the world in ways thought impossible before, is led by a generation fully prepared to sacrifice its own offspring.”

Technical details:

96 minutes
English/Afrikaans dialogue

Teaser trailer:

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