Gaia (2021)

Director: Jaco Bouwer
Writer: Tertius Kapp
Cast: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 27.9.2021

Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) are forest rangers, sent out to check on wildlife cameras. What should be a routine mission starts to go sideways when Gabi walks into a trap and is injured. The trap was set by Barend (Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk), but it is unclear what or who they were hunting with it. In any case, Gabi finds herself at their mercy – but it may very well be that they are not a threat. There is something dangerous in the forest, though.

Gaia worked pretty well for me – for the most part. I did have a couple of issues with it, but overall I liked it.

The film poster showing Gabi (Monique Rockman) from her shoulders up, her head dissolving into mushrooms.

Gaia’s best part, for me, is the cinematography. There really are some stunning images here, starting with a couple of upside-down shots of the forest. It’s a gorgeous-looking film. But that’s not the only thing that worked for me. I also liked Gabi and Winston a lot. They are good characters to give us an in into the film, and they have good (platonic) chemistry with each other. And I really enjoyed the “monster” design – it reminded me a bit of Annihilation and The Girl with All the Gifts.

The film introduces religious themes after a while and I found those very interesting. I am less sure about the racial dynamics in the film. Barend and Stefan are white, and in tune with the forest, having an almost natural connection with it, like they belong there. While Gabi and Winston are Black and seem like intruders in the forest. Given that this is a South African film, this casting is at best not very thoughtful.

Gabi (Monique Rockman) sitting at a table with Barend (Carel Nel) and Stefan (Alex van Dyk), the latter two clasping hands as if in prayer.

What I do know for sure is that I hated the oedipal relationship that develops between Gabi and Stefan, where neither seems particularly sure whether they want her to mother him or whether they want to fuck. I was pretty creeped out by that and would have preferred it if the film had leaned clearly in one or the other direction.

Overall, the film didn’t blow me away, but I did like it. It is interesting and well-crafted, even if not everything worked out the way it should have. It’s definitely worth giving it a try.

Barend (Carel Nel) looking into a tree hole, as seen from inside the hole.

Summarizing: good.

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