Reality gets a swift kick in the pants in writer/director Hector Quijano’s trippy short Gaia. A man (Max Valdez) sits in a room, looking at the woods out the window. He makes a tea out of an organic substance that isn’t identified but is obviously a nifty hallucinogenic. He drives out to a forest trail and starts walking. The tea kicks in, and the trees start looking real pretty. A dancer in swirling robes (Jojo Baer) appears and disappears. The man continues his psychedelic stroll down the path, not knowing where it will lead.
Quijano does an excellent job of recreating a journey to the center of the mind for the unmedicated viewer. He wisely starts slowly with the strangeness, allowing the visuals to bubble and build. Not only does this match a real trip, but it also improves the pacing of the 13-minute short. If everything during the hallucinations went warped all at once, there would be no peak to climb towards, just an elongated stare at a rainbow in a gasoline puddle. Instead, the filmmaker lets the forest seem a little off and just gives a brief flash of the dancer.
“…continues his psychedelic stroll down the path…”
The more the drug builds up, the more vibrant the visuals with more dancing between the trunks. Valdez does an excellent job of playing a realistic rendition of someone tripping balls, with a half-serious, half-bewildered look pasted on him. Baer is fun as the dancing pulse of the forest, very flowy and rhythmic. The woodland photography is gorgeous, especially when the mirror filter is employed, so it is pretty on pretty. The visual effects overall are well-chosen and crescendo in a very satisfactory way.
Quijano specializes in what he refers to as “surreal narratives,” a format that Gaia seems to be an excellent example of. It is debatable whether the short is a tribute to nature through drugs or a tribute to drugs through nature. What a cosmic debate, though! I look forward to Quijano’s future work, as he already can dose an audience really well.
"…an excellent job of recreating a journey to the center of the mind for the unmedicated viewer."