Gaia ★★★

South African director Jaco Bouwer integrates themes of cult fanaticism, preservation and inequalities in nature for his fantasy horror movie Gaia. Together with screenwriter Tertius Kapp, Bouwer's frequent collaborator, they imagine nature coming alive in unnatural ways and build a mood that succeeds to be increasingly strange and creepy as it progresses.

It follows Gabi (Monique Rockman), a park ranger attempting to locate her surveillance drone in an enormous primordial forest. She soon comes across survivalists Barend (Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk), who are loyal followers to a weird theology that's very much their own. Additionally, she realises that there's a genuine menace wandering the wilderness in the shape of howling blind fungal diseased zombies.

It's easy to comprehend early that the film is more engaged in creating a particular atmosphere and tone than being concerned with a traditional narrative. Jorrie van der Walt's opaque yet captivating cinematography helps the film immeasurably, as do the first-rate creature effects. Unfortunately, the dialogue is frequently clunky, and there are some half-baked moments, including a developing romance between Gabi and Stefan. However, even for its faults in storytelling, it's visually stunning and leans heavily into body horror to deliver a surreal and psychedelic nightmare.

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