REVIEW: Gaia (2021)

dir. Jaco Bouwer

When forestry ranger Gabi (Monique Rocman) encounters extreme survivalist Barend (Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (Alex Van Dyk) she sinks into their unnerving and strange religion, realising that the woods harbour forces that are beyond her comprehension.

Folk horror has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years, shaking off its ’70s cobwebs and resurfacing with modern ideas to scare new audiences. Gaia joins the leaders of this new wave, incorporating contemporary ecological fears with the traditional trope of man-versus-nature, director Bouwer creating a world where the threat of Mother Nature reclaiming humankind from our techno-industrial ways is absolutely terrifying.

In addition to this combo of eco and folk beats there are moments of pure body horror. As Gabi becomes infected by the surrounding environment through the inhalation of spores, moss and fungus sprout through her skin. The practical effects are fantastic and – in a genre saturated with CGI – it’s welcome to see the tactility of human beings being turned into composted leaf mulch, a transformation that recalls recent Russian goo-fest Superdeep.

With its fusion of grim creature design and intense performances (Carel Nel is the standout here, playing a sort of maniacal forest Jesus), Gaia is a fantastic entry to the subgenre. And although the tale of nature taking back a world that has abused and exploited is not new, the amalgam of pagan ideologies and fantastic visual effects makes this a must-see.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ygraine Hackett-Cantabrana

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