(director:  Jaco Bouwer; screenwriter: Tertius Kapp; cinematographer: Jorrie van der Walt; editor: Leon Visser; music: Pierre-Henri Wicomb; cast: Monique Rockman (Gabi), Carel Nel (Barend), Alex van Dyk (Stefan), Anthony Oseyemi (Winston); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: R; producer;Jorrie van der Walt: A Neon release/XYZ Films/Decal; 2021-South Africa-in English & Afrikaans, with English subtitles)

“Intriguing South African eco-horror tale.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

First-time feature film director Jaco Bouwerand writer Tertius Kapp bring us this intriguing South African eco-horror tale. It uses as its title Gaia, the ancient Greek name for the Earth. Tension mounts as it becomes a slow-burning thriller, with the theme ‘nature strikes back.’ It’s a promising effort, as Bouwer’s visuals are stunning, only the story could have been more coherent.

Gabi (Monique Rockman) and her boss Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) are forest rangers paddling their canoe on a river, on a routine assignment collecting conservation matter in the jungle, when their drone is damaged by what appears to be a man living in the foliage. In retrieving their drone in the forest, the two are separated. Whereby Gabi gets her foot impaled in a hunter’s trap, but is rescued by two off-the-grid survivalists, the wild-looking Barend (Carel Nel) and his son Stefan (Alex van Dyk). While healing Gabi becomes aware of a great danger lurking in the forest, where an evil presence turns human victims into flesh-eating mutants.

Dad is a madman follower of a cult religion and Gabi realizes she won’t get help from him, as she tries to separate him from his indoctrinated wilderness-living son so that he may be of help against these outside forces.

We soon learn what we have here is a counterattack by the earth against a technological civilization that has altered the natural order.  The focus of the upheaval is on a giant gnarled tree from which the fungal entities emerge, and which Barend worships without fail (taking the mushrooms for their psychedelic value).

The director pays his respect to the camp classic Japanese film from 1963, “Attack of the Mushroom People,” that also had mushrooms attacking people.