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John’s Horror Corner: Gaia (2021), a pretty weird, mildly trippy South African ‘sort of’ eco-horror film.

August 28, 2021

MY CALL: A weird film crossing earthly mysticism with infection tropes, dogmatic fanaticism, and adversarial fungal organisms. Very cool ideas and visuals accompany these themes, but it wasn’t nearly as trippy or thrilling as the trailer suggested. The film neither wows nor feels like something I’ve seen before. But make no mistake. It’s good.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Gaia: For more mycological horror I’d recommend The Superdeep (2020) and maybe Shrooms (2007; which I have not seen). But most closely this movie reminds me of The Hallow (2015).

Extending well past its broad sweeping opening shots of this African habitat, constant photography of the jungle from various angles transports us to this tropical, remote location as park rangers Winston (Anthony Oseyemi; Dead Places) and Gabi (Monique Rockman; Nommer 37) routinely check their forest cameras for their research.

Plucked by a gaunt survivalist and his son, the camera lingers on a mushroom as its spores are swept away in a light current of air. Mushrooms and various fungi are the prevalent theme. These woodsmen, Barend (Carel Nel; Raised by Wolves) and his quiet son Stefan (Alex van Dyk), aid Gabi when she injured in the forest by one of their traps intended for wild game. We soon learn Gabi’s rescuers worship some aspect of nature among them as a deity, and we wander into some curiously religious-pagan territory.

Before long Winston and Gabi suffer what seem to be delusions, some clearly just dream-like visions, others seeming quite real. These visions include screeching monstrosities in the forest that can be found in no biological field guide, the supernaturally rapid growth of plant life as it reaches for its fare, and fungal/lichen growths emerging from skin. Visions of bodily fungal infection abound.

Weird film. It crosses bits of religion fused with earthly mysticism into blatant infection tropes, and wrestles with the notion of trying to psychologically rescue someone from a dependent cult-like upbringing. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s a solid movie and it doesn’t feel like something I’ve seen before. I’m very satisfied with it, but it’s not the kind of film I expect to feel compelled to revisit.

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