It’s not like we haven’t lived through some scary times lately, including the four years of 45’s destructive reign, the rise of white nationalism, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
If any good came of it, it would be the rejuvenation of nature in various parts of the world. Alex Garland’s underrated 2018 horror flick “Annihilation” addressed the distortion of the laws of nature in a way that may be reminiscent to some as they watch Jaco Bouwer’s “Gaia” (Neon).
South African forest service agents Gabi (Monique Rockman) and Winston (Anthony Oseyemi) are making their rounds via rowboat when one of their drones is destroyed by a mysterious man in the woods. After warning her that “people disappear in this forest,” Winston agrees to give Gabi one hour to find the missing drone.
Meanwhile, an off-grid survivalist father and son duo, Barend (Carel Nel) and Stefan (Alex van Dyk), who live in a makeshift cabin in the forest are busy smearing mud over the lenses of the agents’ cameras mounted on trees. They forage for mushrooms and grubs, as well as set traps — although it’s unclear if they are meant for the local fauna or the agents. As it turns out, it’s neither.
They don’t know it, but Gabi and Winston are about to have life-altering experiences. Gabi encounters a mysterious being in the foliage and, while running away from it, is seriously hurt by one of Barend and Stefan’s traps. Winston hears Gabi’s cries for help, but can’t locate her. He then becomes the first victim of the forest’s mysterious and lethal force.
Gabi is saved by Barend and Stefan, but she probably would have been better off dying. Barend is a kind of religious fanatic with his own frightening manifesto. Stefan is at his father’s maniacal mercy, although Gabi begins to have a positive effect on the teen. Gabi soon finds herself uniting with Barend and Stefan in fighting off the deadly mushroom people who attack them with regularity, day and night.
Unfortunately, Gabi discovers that she has been infected by whatever it is that causes the mushroom people’s transformation. Nevertheless, she is focused on her mission to get Stefan away from his father and to safety. She even goes so far as to take part in a shrooming ritual that produces a terrifying hallucination.
With Gabi and Barend each consumed by their own personal callings, it all comes down to a battle of wills. In the end, there is only one survivor, and that person’s sudden appearance in a city could have horrifying consequences. In English and Afrikaans with subtitles.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.