SXSW Review ‘Gaia’: Surviving The Forest For The Trees
Mother nature has a way of surviving despite what man can do, so when a young ranger, Gabi, played by Monique Rockman explores the deepest parts of uncharted forest things get horrific as ancient fungi-like creatures attempt to turn her body into a giant lichen.
Jaco Bouwer’s Gaia premiered at SXSW and he has put together a gorgeously photographed survivalist horror story that explores how the Anthropocene is being challenged by plant-life to become the dominant species. Perpetuating this idea is a young man and his father, Alex van Dyk and Carel Nel respectively, who save Gabi after she is attacked by one of the woodland gods and begins to see symptoms of biological changes to her own body.
Gaia is a gorgeous piece to watch. The forest setting which can sometimes feel redundant has been lit in a way that highlights every crevice, every frost crack in a tree trunk, or nuance of a mushroom. The word “Gaia” itself means “earth goddess” so the director has used that as a focal point and it renders beautifully onscreen.
Rockman is also beautiful as the human whose body may or may not be transforming into that of woodland flora. She brings the character an almost action-hero feel but also a curiosity about how the earth is slowly taking back her original landscape.
Dyk and Carel find a fierceness in their roles as believers who must keep the goddess happy lest she overtakes them and begins her reign as earth’s dominant carbon-based lifeform. Speaking of which, the special effects, when practical, are absolutely marvelous, it’s when they rely on CGI that some might find reason to nit-pick.
Overall Gaia’s narrative has been touched on before. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Creepshow segment, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” or to some closer degree, William Friedkin’s 1990 horror film, The Guardian. These movies pose the question of terrestrial supernatural influences on earth that wield power to dominate nature.
Gaia is different in that the force is already inherently earthbound and just waiting to find a host to carry out its plan to infect the global human population. It’s a scary thought, especially as a metaphor for a world recovering from a pandemic.
Not nearly as bleak as it wishes to be, Gaia is still effective with its geological body horror and thought-provoking narrative. These engrossing elements are only part of the picture the director seems to want to illustrate. Still, the world Bouwer has created is a fascinating and visually striking one.
[This review is a part of iHorror’s coverage of the SXSW Film Festival. Release dates and viewing platforms have yet to be determined in some cases. We will give you information on where to watch movies if any are applicable.]
Image credit: Credit: Jorrie van der Walt
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘Bury The Bride’
Bachelorette parties can be such a disaster.
June Hamilton (Scout Taylor-Compton, Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN) has invited a group of friends and her sister Sadie (Krsy Fox, Allegoria) to her new humble abode to party and to meet her new hubby to be. Having to drive out far into the treacherous desert to a shotgun shack with no one else around, ‘cabin in the woods’ or rather ‘cabin in the desert’ jokes ensue as the red flags rise up one after another. Warning signs that are inevitably buried under a wave of alcohol, games, and unburied drama between the bride, family, and friends. But when June’s fiancee shows up with some gritty, redneck buddies of his own the party really gets started…
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bury The Bride going in, but was pleasantly surprised by some of the twists and turns it took! Taking tried and true genres like ‘backwoods horror’, ‘redneck horror’, and the always entertaining ‘marital horror’ to craft something that caught me rather off guard. Directed and co-written by Spider One and co-written by co-star Krsy Fox, Bury The Bride is a truly fun and stylized horror hybrid with plenty of gore and thrills to keep this bachelorette party interesting. For the sake of leaving things to the viewers, I’ll keep details and spoilers to a minimum.
Being such a tight-knit plot, the cast and cast of characters are key to making the plot work. Both sides of the marital line, from June’s urban friends and sister to redneck husband to be David’s (Dylan Rourke) macho buds, play well off of one another as the tensions rise. This creates a distinct dynamic that comes into play as the desert hijinks escalate. Prominently, there’s Chaz Bono as David’s mute sidekick of sorts, Puppy. His expressions and reactions to the ladies and his browbeating friends were a highlight to be sure.
Though a bit of a minimalist plot and cast, Bury The Bride makes the most of its characters and setting to make a truly fun and entertaining bridal horror movie that takes you for a loop. Go in blind, and bring a good gift! Available now on Tubi.
Panic Fest 2023 Review: Final Summer
August 16th, 1991. Final Day of summer camp at Camp Silverlake, Illinois. Tragedy has struck. A young camper has died while hiking under the care of camp counselor Lexi (Jenna Kohn). The grandson of alleged campfire story monster Warren Copper (Robert Gerard Anderson), it only adds to the tension s its announced that this tragedy among other factors has led to the dissolution and sale of Camp Silverlake for good. Now left behind to clean up the mess as the campsite gets ready for the chopping block, a killer with a skull mask and an axe has taken to killing every camp counselor they can find. But is it an actual ghost story come to life, the real Warren Copper, or someone or something else entirely?
Final Summer is a pretty entertaining summer camp slasher homage, particularly to the more grounded and brutal seasonal horrors of the late 70’s and early 80’s like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Madman. Complete with bloody stabbings, beheadings, and bludgeonings that are not played for laughs or winks or nods. It’s a pretty simple premise. Bunch of camp counselors marooned at an isolated and shutting down camp getting picked off one by one. But, the cast and through-line still make it an entertaining ride and it sticks the aesthetic of the time period and style of slasher to make it enthralling if you’re a particularly big fan of Sumer Camp Slashers. Though set in 1991, and with some fashion and then present, it doesn’t quite utilize the time period to its fullest. Extra kudos for featuring some veteran actors of the genre like Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ own Tommy Jarvis, Thom Matthews as the local sheriff.
And of course, every great slasher needs a great villain and The Skull Mask is an interesting one that stands out. Wearing a simple outdoors get-up and the creepy, featureless formfitting skull mask, he rasps, walks, and slices his way throughout the campsite. Once scene that pops to mind was a brutal beating involving a sports trophy. Once the counselors realize there’s a killer in their midst in the dark of night on Camp Silverlake, it leads to a high energy stalk and chase that keeps its momentum to the end.
So, if you’re in the mood for a summer camp slasher movie that reflects the genre boom at its heyday, Final Summer may be the kind of film you’d like to watch near the campfire, enjoying s’mores, and hoping there’s not a masked madman nearby…
Panic Fest 2023 Review: ‘The Once And Future Smash/End Zone 2’
Freddy Krueger. Jason Voorhees. Michael Myers. These are just a few examples of many slasher killers who have ingrained themselves into pop culture and have attained immortality. Both in that no matter how many times they die, they keep coming back and how their franchises just won’t stay dead so long as they have a fandom to revitalize them. Like Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, they live on so long as the fan believe they will. It’s in this way that even the most obscure horror icon can have a shot at a comeback. And the actors that portrayed them.
This is the set-up to The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 created by Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein. In the sixties, the first true sports themed slasher was created with the film End Zone and it’s more popular follow up End Zone 2 in 1970. The film followed the football themed cannibal Smashmouth and was portrayed by both the egotistical diva Mikey Smash (Michael St. Michaels, The Greasy Strangler) and the “Touchdown!” catchphrase slinging William Mouth (Bill Weeden, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.) with both men laying claim to the character and creating a rivalry that would last decades. Now, 50 years later, a studio is lining up an End Zone requel and both olden actors are determined to return as Smashmouth while attending a horror convention. Leading to a battle for the ages for fandom and gory glory!
The Once And Future Smash and its companion End Zone 2 stand on their own both as loving satires of horror, slashers, fandom, remake trends, and horror conventions and as their own fictional horror franchise complete with lore and history. The Once And Future Smash is a funny mockumentary with bite as it delves deep into the horrifying and competitive world of the convention circuit and the lives of guests and fans. Largely following Mikey and William as they both desperately try and regain their former perceived glory and leading to all manner of awkward and hilarious inconveniences such as being booked to the same table- despite absolutely hating each other! The cast complimented by A.J. Cutler as the put upon A.J. Working as Mikey Smash’s assistant due to a vow by his father who worked on the original movies as Smashmouth’s partner in crime, A.J. works well as the straight man to the antics of the former horror stars in their demands and as tensions heat up. Having to go all manner of demeaning treatment and leading to A.J. wanting to escape the madness from behind the scenes.
And being a mockumentary, it only makes sense that there would be a wide roster of experts, filmmakers, and talking heads to interview on the subject of the End Zone franchise and history. Featuring a wide variety of icons and memorable appearances such as Lloyd Kaufman, Richard Elfman, Laurene Landon, Jared Rivet, Jim Branscome, and many more. Giving an air of legitimacy to End Zone being such a fondly looked upon slasher, or smasher, film series and Smashmouth being deserving of his infamy. Each interview providing further context to the weird details and backstory surrounding the End Zone series and grounding the idea further to make it like a palpably real series of films. From stating their favorite scenes from the movies, to adding bits about behind the scene drama, to how it influenced even their own works in the genre. Many points being very clever parodies of other horror franchise drama and trivia such as Friday The 13th and Halloween among many others, further adding fun parallels
At the end of the day however, The Once And Future Smash is a love letter to the horror genre and the fandoms that have arisen around them. Despite the conflicts and issues that can arise from nostalgia and trying to revive those stories for modern day cinema, they left a positive impact on their audiences and something for fans to rally together for. This mockumentary does for horror fandom and franchises what Christopher Guest’s movies did for dog shows and folk music.
Conversely, End Zone 2 makes for a fun as hell slasher throwback (or smasher, considering that Smashmouth pulps and drinks his victims with a blender due to his grotesquely broken jaw.) Allegedly restored from lost 16mm elements, the hour long 1970 slasher takes place 15 years later from the original End Zone and the Donner High Massacre perpetrated by Angela Smazmoth as Nancy and her friends try to move on from the horror by having a reunion at a cabin in the woods. Only to fall victim to Angela’s son, Smashmouth and his partner in crime, A.J.! Who will survive and who will be pureed?
End Zone 2 both stands on its own and compliments The Once And Future Smash both as a companion piece and a genuinely entertaining throwback horror film on its own. Homaging other slasher franchises and trends of yesteryear while forming its own identity with Smashmouth. A bit Friday The 13th, a little Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a dash A Nightmare On Elm Street in a fun football theme. While both movies can be viewed individually, you get the best out of the two as a double feature as lore about End Zone 2 and the stories of its production history from The Once And Future Smash come into play.
Overall, The Once And Future Smash and End Zone 2 are two highly inventive films that deconstruct, reconstruct, and lovingly goof on everything from slasher franchises, horror conventions, and the true terror of behind the scenes drama. And here’s hoping we’ll one day truly see more Smashmouth in the future!