Eco-horror has always been a favorite of mine. I suspect it’s the innate vulnerability I feel when watching it as if there is nothing any of us humans can do to control the chaos. There is nothing more horrific than an unstoppable force that can’t be understood or reasoned with. The Halloween franchise is predicated on Michael Myers, a force so enigmatic it is also called The Shape. Nature is that same way. It is an ecosystem that thrives on order and symbiosis that we humans can barely comprehend. Gaia from director Jaco Bouwer highlights the unbridled power of the inevitable with stunning creatures and a seriously bleak ending. It is a terrifying vision of beauty and chaos. Read our full review here.
A forest ranger and her boss lose their way, and she finds herself injured in a cabin. That cabin is the home for father and son Barend and Stefan, who are extreme survivalists living in the forest. They have a spirituality and agenda all their own. The longer Gabi spends with them, the more she becomes convinced there is something in the primordial forest that is older and more powerful than humans. Something ready to reclaim its planet. Here’s everything you need to know about Gaia.
Early on, Gabi’s boss becomes infected by the spore creatures, and she finds herself in the company of Barend and Stefan. Barend is enthralled with his forest, and the spirit he believes lives there. For him, nature is both a love and a religion. He has a relationship that most couldn’t understand, and over time he has lost touch with the more human parts of himself. His child Stefan was very little when he was left alone in the forest with his father. As a result, he knows no other life than the one he has. He is attracted to Gabi as much because of curiosity as sexual desire.
Barend was a plant pathologist who lost his wife Lily years ago to cancer. His child Stefan was conceived in the cabin where they lived since her death. As a scientist of nature, he was predisposed to find reason and order even in the fantastic. He was very devoted to his wife, and when she died but remained at least in part with him in the form of the blue light-emitting Mother tree, it was a sign that nature, not humanity, was worth saving. Since then, he has raised his son with the same beliefs and bided his time for the perfect opportunity to spread the spore’s reach beyond the forest.
Barend and Stefan have developed a strategy for living in and with the fungus in the forest. The Mother tree makes mushrooms that the men ingest. Those mushrooms act as an anecdote that prevents them from becoming the creatures that roam the forest. Without the substance, they would become just like all the other creatures roaming the woods. The fungus takes over the skin, eyes, mouth, and lungs first and leaves behind a confused and pained individual who is barely human. In Gaia, nature takes care of the men who are taking care of her. For them, Gaia is a God. She was there long before primates and will be here long after.
Gabi becomes infected by the spores probably very early on, but her fate is sealed when the creature bleeds ooze all over her. Stefan chooses to allow her to remain infected instead of giving her the mushroom anecdote for two reasons. One, he believes she is part of the urban establishment. He does not believe she can ever be completely wild in the forest like his father and himself. As a result, she isn’t worthy of the medicine despite his feelings for her. The second reason is he has already decided to continue his father’s work and assist nature in reclaiming the planet. Because the Mother tree remains as a living being, Stefan may think he is prolonging Gabi’s life by allowing her to turn into a creature like his mother.
Gabi’s dreams foreshadow what has happened to the other spore creatures and what will happen to her. It could also be argued that her dreams are communications between nature and her mind. A link of sorts that establishes what will happen. At one point, she dreams of a flower petal coming from her mouth. She is already becoming one with the forest organism, and her brain is reacting to the fungus.
Likely, Stefan chooses to let nature take its course with Gabi and later goes to the city, knowingly infecting everyone else because his father’s willingness to sacrifice him to Gaia broke him. Despite Gabi returning to prevent Barend from killing Stefan, Stefan has already committed to his father’s mission. All remnants of the curious young boy are gone leaving only an agent of the Earth. He goes into the city and spreads the spores at Gaia’s request, and it is the beginning of the end for humanity. From the speed the spores grow to fungus and mold on Stefan’s food, it is clear this will be a fast-moving contagion that will claim almost everyone and everything in a concise amount of time.
In the end, Gaia doesn’t need the help of humans to eradicate us from the planet, but it certainly won’t say “no thank you” either. Nature doesn’t care whether we are a help or a hindrance. The results are always the same. It will find a way to defend itself. It is a relentless force bigger and stronger than we will ever be. If we mistreat her, she will retaliate. In this case with a spore infestation that is as catastrophic as the event that killed all the dinosaurs. Stefan has laid the groundwork for the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of a new world. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, humans will become the building blocks for that new world. By allowing Gabi to become a cog in that wheel, Stefan guarantees she will stay with him forever.
Gaia is streaming everywhere you stream movies right now.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.