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.