It’s been a while since my senses have been hijacked like this and GAIA did just that. This nature horror is absolutely riveting.
GAIA is a perfect example of an indie that needs to get in front of contemporary audiences. This film has the ability to establish names, inspire other indie artists, there are so many things that this film can do if it has a wide release. From the sound design to the visuals, to the performances, GAIA succeeded on so many fronts. Such a confident tone in its narrative and direction. I think that’s what struck me the most. It’s confidence in its eeriness and how well they established complexity, all within a forest.
Fresh off the heels of seeing ‘In The Earth’, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t approach this film with a little hesitance. I just wasn’t ready for another unclear and abstract kaleidoscope horror. GAIA is clear-cut and satisfactory. I say satisfactory because, though the story was exemplary, it just couldn’t escape derivation. A cult, a forest, blind monsters, we’ve all seen these things. Though it was kinda funny to see the monster that’s an odd combo of a Demogorgon and a Clicker from The Last Of Us.
GAIA wastes no time getting to the meat of its story. We are introduced to our main cast and we are taken straight into the main plotline, which thankfully doesn’t deviate away into useless territory. I am happy to say that the story culminates into a perfect ending that doesn’t exactly beg a sequel. GAIA looks and feels like a standalone no matter how people may interpret the ending. Everything is so well-rounded out that by the end, it truly feels like the end.
The performances elevated the seriousness of the overall film. I think a major pitfall to the horror genre is the quality of the performance. Horror is such an odd genre that my snobbish mind overthinks. Too often a horror film is written off as a cheesy midnight screening because of the buckets of blood and terrible acting. However, the scarcity of blood and gory imagery coupled with fantastic performances is too posh for the genre.
GAIA has the imagery, the blood, and the performances to turn this trope on its head. Monique Rockman was definitely a stand-out; embodying every aspect of a protagonist learning story elements as we do. In other words, as things were revealed, she reacted the same way at the same time we did. She was an absolute talent to watch and I for one cannot wait to see her in other projects.
Director Jaco Bouwer did a remarkably great job in hijacking our senses. From the cinematography to the sound design, to the visual effects. I felt I was truly immersed in the endless forest portrayed in the film. I think what made Bouwer such a force in the director’s seat was his ability to capture so much, with so minimal. Especially with the Father and son characters. We watched them hunt their food, tend to Gabi’s wounds, and so many other things that I won’t divulge for the sake of spoilers. The cinematography goes beyond capturing; it’s the movements, the close-ups, the drone shots. Cinematography is an artform and Gaia is quite the masterclass.
The narrative importance of mushrooms and fungi is made quite prevalent thanks to the costume and make-up department. With the locations and cast kept very minimal and budgeted. I’m glad to see some of the money go to the visuals and effects. Starting with the mushroom people (Yes, mushroom people. Not a spoiler.) They were very reminiscent of other monsters, as mentioned before. However, putting aside the derivation, these monsters are integral parts of the world-building by Bouwer. Bouwer was able to take advantage of shooting in a forest and making its ecosystem much more complex than it is. Bouwer did a fantastic job in personifying the plant life in the forest.
An indie horror is as great as it is original. Indies have to work twice as hard to stand out and GAIA does just that. From the start, you are immersed in the setting just as the main cast is. Every step, every sight, every event is felt through fantastic sound design and cinematography. Monique Rockman was an absolute force to behold thanks to Director Jaco Bouwer’s vision. Do yourself a favor and buy a ticket to Gaia at a theater near you.
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