Gaia (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two forest rangers go deep into a jungle where nature is an ancient force to be reckoned with.

Visually stunning with a convoluted, yet powerful message. Great opening sequence that warns: If you were not born in this jungle… Do. Not. Enter. You would never guess! They did (face slap). Well, just think of it this way: if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have watched it, and I wouldn’t have reviewed it. So, does Gaia live up to its expectations?

From a filmmaking point of view, you get Dutch angles, 180 degree reverse angles, drone long shots, tracking shots… everything! While we are at it, Jorrie van der Walt’s photography is truly admirable. This will be probably the first time you watch a film with the aspect ratio changing four times throughout it to cover from the forest’s vastness to the heroes’ most claustrophobic feelings and deepest fears. Leon Visser edits the film with mastery, maintaining the continuity, battling confusion, and effectively building up the suspense. His work’s peak though is the hallucinatory montage sequences that create micro-narratives within the macro-narrative and makes us feel even more lost in a reality that has nothing to do with ours. Costume designer Mariechen Vosloo deserves also a round of applause as everything Barend, Stefan, and Gabi (later on), wear is handmade! Kudos to their amazing effort. Finally, Pierre-Henri Wicomb’s original music, the art department, the sound department, the visual department, the make-up department, and all cast crew deserve a tremendous recognition as, without their hard work, this film, like any other film, wouldn’t have been made.

Writer Tertius Kapp and director Jaco Bower have created a world in the heart of ours with plenty of visuals and strong opinions. Somewhere in between, Bower felt like constantly teasing us with Stefan and Gabi’s sexual tension and, for better or for worse, he left us hanging. Maybe, one of the reasons is the focus on the message. I am not going to go into it as you need to pay attention to Barend’s couple of monologues on civilisation. They are powerful as they are intriguing. Utterances like these, written in lockdown, leave quite a bitter taste because they carry dark and painful truths that came to the surface while feeling like living, as many people experienced it, in isolation. As per IMDb, the lockdown was announced a week into the shooting so most of the crew parted ways in different time, to different places. The film’s message expresses that loss we all felt – some more than others – and the aforementioned truths sting us, and the society we live in. There is a poignant accusation in the Biblical references and the way we have been functioning as humans individually but also collectively. There is a great resemblance to In the Earth (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/06/18/in-the-earth-2021-horror-sci-fi-thriller/ and there is a lot to compare and contrast. I found Gaia‘s ending psychologically brutal, but depressingly befitting.

How this pandemic has affected our lives and consequently filmmaking has already started showing, but I have a feeling that its full force has yet to strike and therefore it’s still patiently building up. As much I adore dark, horror films, deep down, it aches when you know how many people have unfathomably suffered (especially) the last couple of years. The news on a daily basis broadcast from drama to horror and the child inside me wishes these genres belonged only to the cinema. I hope you are keeping well wherever you are, whatever you do.

Stay safe!

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