Review: Bizarre eco-horror thriller 'Gaia' high on atmosphere
Courtesy of Neon
Like a cross between “The Last of Us” and “A Quiet Place” with an eco-horror and biblical subtext, Jaco Bower’s “Gaia” gets the viewer lost in the woods of their nightmares, contaminated with deadly creatures lurking in the shadows and an eerie sense of dread. The film is a visual feat and bakes in lore and strange surroundings that would complement itself with a double feature of Alex Garland’s “Annihilation.” You don’t quite know what you’re watching, but the artistry has a profound effect on the senses, confirming the best films lack the answers we seek and ambiguity is always a tasteful medicine.
There’s plenty of atmospheric tension and a syhentic score by Pierre-Henry Wicomb which fits nicely in the mold of recent “eco-horror” thrillers (“In The Earth”) but Tertius Kaspp’s tedious but satisfactory screenplay grows away from the mold and carves its own niche. Instead of going for a campier route, Bower treats audiences with an engaging protagonist on a guided journey of self mediation in the wildest of places and the unlikeliest of circumstances. Gabi (Monqiue Rockman) is a patrolling ranger on a routine field operation when she inadvertently comes under the custody of Barned (Carel Nel) and Stefan (Alex van Dyk), a father/son duo living like hermits in the desolate forest she’s investigating.
Once holed up inside their tiny wood shack, Gabi has visions in the night and awakens with plants growing out of her arms and legs. Is she hallucinating? There’s an overt sense of style, sexual and religious implications in “Gaia” which makes up for the film's stagnant rhythm as it slowly reveals that Barned and Stefan aren’t as they seem, having developed a cultish appreciation for the woods they inhabit.
These three leads are given ample foundation to explore their sexual feelings (physically and mentally) as Bower takes us deeper into this intoxicating (and not easily explained) slice of worldbuilding guaranteed to alienate those coming in with minimal expectations. If you submit yourself to the visceral imagery and startling metaphors, “Gaia,” though not shocking or groundbreaking in the essences Garland toyed with themes of cancer, is a fun feature to dissect with an intriguing climax worthy of conversation even if the plot has a few screws loose.
GAIA is now playing in select theaters and available to rent on demand and digitally.