Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Dir. Jaco Bouwer
Reviewer. Martyn Wakefield
In a year that has given us a global pandemic as well as heigtened reality of the effects of global warming, out of the fires rise a new sub genre of horror; eco-horror. ANNIHILATION meets IN THE EARTH as Jaco Bouwer's exploration of the forest go from lost ranger to god fearing victims to mother nature.
On a surveillance mission in a primordial forest, Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) encounter two survivalists hidden in the amongst the trees. The boy and his philosophical father have an obsession with the nature around them but their welcoming nature quickly turns sinister when they come across what really lives in the forest.
GAIA is survival horror at it's finest, not only does it present a true horror in terms of survival against an unknown enemy but the basis of nature itself reclaiming against the virus against it (humanity) is refreshingly put at the centre of Bouwer's film. Rockman is magnetic and controls every bit of screentime and as her story evolves, it becomes ever more traumatic to see what is coming.
While the story is the centre piece of GAIA's genius, it is actually the special effects and cinematography that are the real stars. Every shot could be a still and a scene within itself. Jorrie van der Walt is literally a god in terms of showcasing the world of GAIA as the camera focuses on mushrooms and trees to give them a menacing beauty against a backdrop of fast tracked motion of natural growth and the night sky. The film's body horror sees the humans growth into their natural habitat which ends in a human/earth hybrid that walk the forest like the creatures from THE DECENT with heavy layers of indistinguishable make-up. There are instant comparisons to the videogame THE LAST OF US however it's no mean feat to bring these creatures to life and Bouwer does so with finesse. As the elements around the survivors take hold, the terror that such natural beauty gives out is unrivalled and it's mostly thanks to the blend of visual and practical effects that always feel natural.
GAIA is a true assault of the senses with every sound, sight and texture magnified above human comprehension, at time euphoric, others horrific, there is only praise for a film that brings out the horror of such a beautiful looking film.
Watch GAIA on Altitude.film and other digital platforms from 27 September.