By Patricio Solis (Rochester)
South African film Gaia, follows Gabi, a park ranger, who while on a river expedition in the South African forest goes into the forest to investigate why the cameras are covered, falls into a trap, and gravely injures her foot. While being gravely injured Gabi stumbles into a cabin in the middle of the forests and then two mysterious survivalists, who we later find out to be a dad (Barend) and a son (Stefan), find her inside their cabin. The movie proceeds to follow the mysteries of the forest and why these two survivalists happen to be in the middle of nowhere.
The first thing that caught my eye about this movie was the title. If you haven’t heard of it before there is a theory called the Gaia Hypothesis that basically states that the earth is alive, meaning that earth and all its biological systems behave as one entity and is able to self-regulate itself to stay alive. I feel like having knowledge of this hypothesis gives what the movie is trying to accomplish much more meaning, because the movie is throwing us into the depths of the forest and showing to us how frightening and unknown the earth can be.
There is a very memorable scene in the middle of the movie where conflict between modern society (Gabi) and nature (Barend) leads to a beautiful rant by Barend where he acts as the protector of Earth’s life. In this rant he pretty much explains the Gaia Hypothesis in a very passionate personal way that struck me to my core and made me believe that there truly is something more to the earth than we, modern humans, fail to see. This hit as more of a psychological horror, to think that the Earth is a greater being than humans and will eventually get rid of us for good. For me, this conflict and rant is the most memorable part of the movie as it set the tone for the rest that was to come. In the end, it is hard to choose a side between Gabi and Barend, because they are two completely outlooks on life and they all depend on how one was taught to see the world. It is this conflict that is interesting to see brew in Stefan as he is torn between his dad and Gabi. In the end, I feel like the end provided a compromise between modern vs nature, in that Stefan ends up going to the modern world but appears to still carry nature throughout him. It is a very cliché ending that seems to set up the movie for a second part.
While I feel like the movie fails in capturing an interesting, progressive narrative, it did a great job in getting me to experience the horrors of the forest. From the lighting, camera angles, transitions, to the acting it all did a splendid job in getting me immersed into the movie. Most of found myself wondering what was really going on in the forest, and I feel like this exactly what the director wanted us to feel. He wanted to put us in the shoes of Gabi who was constantly lost and confused. As I said earlier, the character development and plot progression are lackluster and obvious. If you have ever seen other horror movies you will find that Gaia follows the formula for creating horror. There was really nothing that surprised or shocked me. Therefore, I was unsatisfied with the horror of the movie, having watched the trailer, the movie undelivered on what the trailer had built hype for. There were very few moments of action and when action did happen it was underwhelming. Having said all that, the score for the movie was very good. The tense music made you feel that something was coming that there was always imminent danger to the characters. It is sad to say that scenes didn’t maximize the potential of the music that went along with it.
Overall, I wouldn’t say the movie is a must watch by any means, but if you enjoy ecological horror that focuses more on the experience of the viewer than the progression of plot and character development. Then this movie should be added to your list, otherwise it a semi-waste 1 and ½ hours.