Nature gets its own back in Obs man’s horror movie

Director Jaco Bouwer with actress Monique Rockman on the set of Gaia

You won’t want to go into the woods today after watching Gaia, a local horror movie directed by Observatory film-maker Jaco Bouwer.

The 2021 production will be on DStv BoxOffice from tomorrow.

Park ranger Gabi (Monique Rockman) goes into the forest to retrieve a drone and encounters survivalists Barend (Carel Nel) and his son, Stefan (Alex van Wyk). Their cabin in the woods is attacked by strange creatures, and there are further horrors waiting to be encountered. Meanwhile Gabi’s fellow ranger, Winston (Anthony Oseyemi), goes looking for her.

Filming on Gaia started in March 2020. “We were a week into filming when the first Covid-19 lockdown was announced,” says Bouwer. “We had to stop filming and could only finish the film four months later in August 2020.”

They lost their principal locations when SANParks reserves were closed due to lockdown. “The second part we had to complete all on private estates and property,” says Bouwer, who comes from a theatre and TV background.

He has previously directed the supernatural Afrikaans series, Die Spreeus, in 2019, and a made-for-television horror, Rage, in 2020.

“I think horror films are the best political commentary of our times,” he says “With horror you can almost literalise feelings and go down a more expressionist route in telling a story.”

Bouwer enjoys “world-building” in his job as a director. “I like the conceptual part of developing a story and idea with a writer. The filming part is usually very stressful, so I enjoy the post-production more. But essentially it’s about moving people to have an emotional response to the work.”

Nel describes Bouwer as a “visionary in the cinematic world”, adding, “His ideas and the way he approaches film are fresh and thought-provoking. As an actor, he challenges you to find the truth in your character, and, in all instances, he gets the best performances out of you.”

Since its international release in 20 countries last year, Gaia has won several awards, including the Asteroide Award for Best Film at The Trieste Science+Fiction Festival, in Italy, in November, and the “best director” and “best feature film” awards at the 10th Silwerskerm Film Festival Awards last month.