GAIA (2021, found on Google Play) is an intriguing ecological horror film that ultimately, for me, didn’t live up to its atmosphere and ambition. I liked it, but my feelings about it are mixed.
The film is set in South Africa, where Gabi, a park ranger, stumbles across two men living a primitive lifestyle in the forest, a scientist and his son. She discovers that the forest is laced with a mushroom network that is sentient, infectious, and wants to grow. She wants to return to civilization and take the son with her, the scientist wants to stay to study and worship the organism, and the organism wants everything. It all comes to a head in a story with Biblical overtones.
I liked it overall but just couldn’t connect with it on anything other than a base aesthetic level. The forest is beautiful, the actors interesting to look at, and the organism and creature effects are well done. Dream sequences seek to take the film to a higher artistic level and somewhat succeed in this.
There’s a clumsiness, however, to the plotting and character development. The plotting issues are just annoyances, but the character development issues were more problematic for me. I never really know who Gabi is or what she wants, and it drags down what otherwise could have been an interesting dynamic. There’s an environmental message here as well, part of which works well (nature is beautiful but something to fear) and some, while being correct, doesn’t (humans are destroying nature and will ultimately destroy themselves). As a result, when it wrapped up, I didn’t feel much of anything.
Overall, GAIA doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions, but it’s an intriguing, atmospheric, and beautiful ride. Check it out if you’re into ecological horror.