South African Film ‘Gaia’ is a Trippy Environmental Horror

Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer

Plot: An injured forest ranger on a routine mission is saved by two off-the-grid survivalists. What is initially a welcome rescue grows more suspicious as the son and his renegade father reveal a cultish devotion to the forest.

Review: I’ve read articles that talked about how realistic the scenes that depicted trippin’ on mushrooms were in Midsommar. As creepy as those were though, they don’t hold a candle to the nightmare fuel found in this tale of nature gone wild, Gaia.

Hello forest my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…

It starts off simply enough with two people paddling down a serene river in the middle of a thick jungle. One of them, a woman named Gabi (Monique Rockman) is using a drone to explore both above and around them when she spots what seems like a native man right before her drone goes offline.

Being the nature conservationist that she is Gabi insists that she and her partner Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) find it lest it becomes trash in all this pristine green. But what should’ve been a straightforward retrieval quickly turns into a trippy nightmare after Gabi encounters a couple of hardcore survivalists.

I see filming on Man vs Wild Season 35 is coming along well

Father Barend (Carel New) and son Stefan (Alex van Dyk) are not natives of this jungle but have chosen to live like cavemen as Barend believes the world is on the brink of extinction and Mother Nature will be the one to drop the hammer very soon. Turns out Barend may not be as crazy as he looks (and the dude looks ALL kinds of crazy) because at night this particular forest comes to life and with the help of hallucinogenic pollen and mushrooms makes the possibility of leaving slimmer and slimmer for our protagonist as the days wear on.

Gabi is trapped not just by the jungle, but also by the complicated relationship between the father and son who she’s forced to take shelter with. Barend has a cult-like devotion to the forest around them while his son Stefan seems torn between his father’s mad ravings and the possibility of a bigger, better world outside of the jungle.

I don’t want to talk about it, okay? Just leave me alone

The screenplay and the small cast of actors do a wonderful job of portraying not just the larger tale of humanity’s negative impact on the environment around us and the almost inevitable feeling that one day Nature is going to fight back on an apocalyptic scale, but it also takes on the devastation parents can wreak on their children. How dangerous it can be to force your beliefs on them, without giving them a chance to experience the world themselves and come up with their own answers to the more complicated questions that exist out there.

For those looking for something a tad less existential don’t fret because Gaia delivers on the horror. With a heavy dash of Cronenberg-esque body horror and a slew of psychedelic visuals, director Jaco Bouwer creates the kind of paranoia and dread previously found in films like The Thing and Cabin Fever. Close-up shots of roots growing out of someone’s skin, mould and mushrooms coming out of their eyes, or a tree seemingly coming to life will ensure you never want to try ‘shrooms, or go camping as a matter of fact.

Oh my god. Look at her butt!

Even the moments that are meant to be quiet are laced with dread and an underlying intensity, a big part of which is due to the unhinged personality of Barend, who comes across like a darker version of the biblical Abraham.

All of this adds up nicely and overall Gaia is a movie with a simple premise that is innovatively enhanced by the trippy visuals, strong performances and smart directing by Bouwer. It’s not going to ring everyone’s bell, but if films like Midsommar, Heart of Darkness or any trippy type horror does it for you, I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy with this one.

Sommer’s Score: 6.5 out of 10

So what’s your favourite trippy horror movie? And you can check out more great horror content below:

Guatemalan Horror Film La Llorona: Perfect Blend of Political Suspense and Supernatural Mythos

Sci-Fi Horror ‘Possessor’ is an Extremely Dark and Gory Mind Trip (31 Days of Horror Part 30)

2755F829-2EEC-4A68-B6F7-F963F48C9D92 Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever, and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.

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