Movie Review: Gaia

June 15, 2021

Written by Joseph Perry

Joseph Perry is the Film Festival Editor for Horror Fuel; all film festival related queries and announcements should be sent to him at He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.

Eco horror, body horror, creature feature elements — South African chiller Gaia has all this, and more. It’s an intelligent, macabrely beautiful-looking head trip of a film. 
Park rangers Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) are working in the Tsitsikamma forest, floating down a river, when Gabi’s drone goes dead after she spots something unusual. Gabi goes on land to investigate but falls victim to a trap. She seeks shelter in a cabin and later meets its residents — a middle-aged man named Barend (Carel Nel) and younger adult man Stefan (Alex van Dyk) who have given up civilization for a minimalist, survivalist life deep in the forest. 
As the separated rangers learn, something deadly lurks in the forest in the way of mutated entities, two-legged creatures that have been overtaken by flowers, foliage, and fungi. And Barend and Stefan are all too familiar with them.
Director Jaco Bouwer, working from a remarkable screenplay by Tertius Kapp, has crafted a dizzying, dazzling film that commands attention, which it repays with an intelligent story, top-notch performances, engaging characterization, and multiple styles of effective horror. Rockman is superb in her role, conveying much with facial expressions and eye movement along with her line delivery. Nel is mesmerizing as a man who flirts with the fine line between genius and madness. Van Dyk gives a gripping turn as a young man wrestling with feelings and emotions stirred up by Gabi that he has never felt before. Oseyemi is solid in his role, showing strong chemistry with Rockman.
All the stunning visuals of Gaia are gorgeously captured by Jorrie van der Walt’s splendid cinematography. The forest setting is absolutely captivating, while the grotesque effects of how nature affects the protagonists are both disturbing and alluring. Prosthetics designer Clinton Smith turns in masterful work with those effects and with the lurking monsters. The visual effects department also deserves high praise for its members’ fine efforts.
Gaia is strongly recommended for viewers who enjoy heady horror as much as they do fantastic-looking monsters and gruesome special effects and makeup. Bouwer blends everything together masterfully, delivering a work that is certain to be on this reviewer’s list of the 10 best fright-fare films of the year. 
Decal presents Gaia, which will be exclusively in theaters from June 18 and available On Demand from June 25.



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