In director Jaco Bouwer’s Gaia, which premiered at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, there is something ancient, powerful, and unimaginably dangerous living deep in the Tsitsikamma forest of South Africa. While all of the movie’s characters have a certain degree of reverence for nature when you first meet them, none of them can comprehend what sort of force they’ll encounter as they move deeper into the coastal forest.
Gaia’s spin on our collective ecological anxieties veers in a markedly Resident Evil Village direction as forestry workers Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) venture into the green, where they’re quickly separated. In addition to encountering curious traps, both Gabi and Winston gradually become aware of the presence of a strange fungus lurking all throughout the forest—a forest filled with creatures that want to kill them. Though Gaia definitely has some zombie movie overtones that evoke The Girl With All the Gifts, the truth about the forest that Gabi learns from survivalist father-son duo Barend (Carel Nel) and Stefan (Alex Van Dyk) is far more alarming than any normal plague of the undead.
At a time when there’s an ongoing global pandemic raging and even more warnings about the outsized amount of influence human carbon emissions have on global climate change, Gaia’s premise alone hits quite differently. But it’s the film’s arresting, horrific visuals that stick with you as the film slowly builds to its big reveal about the “god” living in the forest. Considering how largely airborne spores factor in the trailer and really the movie as a whole, it’s going to be interesting to see how interested audiences are in seeing Gaia in theaters when it premieres on September 24, with a digital release following on September 27.
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