By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

“Nature finds a way.” is the key message of message of this horror film. And even though I am quoting from Jurassic Park, this message rings especially true in this movie about the negative impact the human race has had on our planet. From South America, the movie Gaia tells a dark tale of nature’s reaction to the industrial “progress” humanity has had on Earth, and indicates that lifeforms considered beneath us can and will fight for survival. Though the movie has a powerful message and shows some imaginative, horrific ramifications of humanity’s dominance, the events of the story do come across as somewhat heavy-handedly. Still, writer Tertius Kapp and director Jaco Bouwer have crafted an artfully skillful cautionary tale that delivers suspense, frights, and some palpable shock value.

Monique Rockman stars as Gabi, a forest ranger working with partner Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) on what starts off as a routine work day. Using a drone to survey the forest while traveling via a small boat, the rangers have to make a sudden stop when their drone gets taken down by what appears to be a human living in the woods. The two rangers get separated when they begin searching for the lost drone, and face attacks by some unusual inhabitants of the forest. After suffering a severe injury to her foot by a crudely made trap, Gabi receives care by a couple of survivalists living in the forest.

Father and son Barend and Stefan (Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk) have been living in their ramshackle cabin in the forest for some time. Though they once were from the city, they have opted for a more simple life of hunting and gathering following the untimely death of their wife and mother. While they help Gabi recover from her injuries, they also begin showing signs that something is very wrong with the surrounding area. As Gabi soon discovers, the area is also inhabited by fungal creatures and lifeforms that either hope to eliminate or assimilate all forms of human existence.

Kapp and Bouwer obviously have great skills as filmmakers and have a wildly imaginative vision for their movie. My main complaint is that the film does meander during its middle which lost me a little when I first watched the film. Otherwise, I was mostly captivated by this wild and dark tale and often marveled at the visual choices and horrific elements which succeed in giving its audiences the necessary shock and awe to keep things compelling.

All of the actors in this movie give tremendous performances which keep this insane story grounded and credible. As Gabi, Monique Rockman gives a formidable and beguiling turn as a woman desperate to get out of an unfathomable situation, but also a person who cares deeply for humanity. Alex van Dyk stars as Stefan, a naive and caring young man who seems trapped in this situation instigated by his unusual and seemingly insane father. As the patriarch Barend, Carel Nel is incredible as the fanatical and unhinged father who has been forever changed by the bizarre natural phenomena that is taking place surrounding his domicile.

Now even though I have my criticisms of the movie’s writing, I still recommend it, for it has some brilliant concepts, and some artfully skillful ways of presenting them. Gaia opens in some theaters on June 18 and will get an On Demand release on June 25.

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