Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – Gaia

My notes on Gaia

This South African eco-horror offers the most extensive use of fungal terror in the genre since Matango (1964) aka Attack of the Mushroom People … and, probably inspired by the recent flurry of interest in the phenomenon of zombie ants, reinvents the mushroom person archetype in a manner more disturbing than colourful even as it eventually ventures into a hallucinogenic, surrender-to-the-green territory not unlike that mapped by Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing.

Forest rangers Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) venture into a trackless wilderness (the Garden Route region) on one of those routine expeditions and come across disturbing omens.  Gabi trips a trap and gets speared through the foot, then wanders into the hut of off-the-grid Barend (Carel Nel), an ex-scientist turned eco-warrior nut job (his shining-eyed frenzy reminded me of Tony Beckley as the plant-worshipper of that Tom Baker Doctor Who serial The Seeds of Death) who is raising his near-silent son Stefan (Alex van Wyk) to live in harmony with nature.  It’s an unexplored angle that the rangers who are represent corrupting civilisation in Barend’s mind – he sneers at ‘your fancy restaurants’ etc – are black and speak English while the jungle-dwellers are white, covered in mud and use Afrikaans.  After a while, mushrooms start growing on people – and there are several disturbing far-gone cases around for jump-scare purposes – and skin colour becomes irrelevant, though Oseyemi succumbs early in a way that echoes the fates of too many black characters in horror films over the years.

Though Barend is a compelling maniac figure, with twisted personal reasons for his actions as well as a generalised disgust with human nature and its effects on nature’s nature, the feeling that develops between Gabi and Stefan is a rote plot development, mostly designed to string things out before the inevitable, fungus-encrusted finale.  It’s a great-looking film, with a richly-textured environment – but its actual story is thin.  Directed by Jaco Bouwer, from a script by Tertius Kapp.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.



One thought on “FrightFest review – Gaia

  1. Someone should do an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris books. Shriek would lend itself especially well to film. I prefer that series to Southern Reach, for all that the newer series is in dialog with Ballard’s The Crystal World. With the Borne books, Jeff is back on form.

    Posted by socrates17 | August 29, 2021, 7:52 pm

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