FLORA Review: Mowing Down Growth Potential

With a premise this good, what could possibly go wrong?

Flora has what sounds like such a great premise on paper. Set in the 1920s, a group of scientists travels to an uncharted forest to study the life there, only to discover a hostility in the plant life that threatens to wipe them out. There is a richness to the originality of that set-up, from the time period placing limits on the scientific understanding of the protagonists, to the novelty of antagonistic plant matter, to the Eldritch horror that the combination of those elements could unleash. But unfortunately, Flora doesn’t live up to that promise. In fact, Flora is a massive bore, squandering the potential of its concepts to deliver a horror film too rote to muster anxiety, yet not inept enough to inspire ironic enjoyment.

The biggest problem is with how the film deals with the central mystery of its horror, mainly in that it opts to explain what's happening almost as soon as anything unsettling or unusual occurs. Members of the scientific expedition start falling victim to allergic reactions after the head of their expedition is discovered dead, but it takes almost no time at all for a botanist among them to point to a pervasive fungal entity that exists in all the plants of the forest and kills any animal life that wanders into the vicinity. The tension from then on is based on a lack of food for having been contaminated by the fungus and eventually succumbing from breathing in the fungal spores, but these stakes are both poorly explained and serve to completely strip the story of mysterious tension, leaving us only to cling to character personality in which to invest our attention.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough engaging character work here to make any one of them stand out. Every one of the six main characters is written as a panicky self-preservationist, with the only differences between them being sex and occupation, and even those occupations are ill-defined except as the plot deems necessary in particular moments. (Granted, I may have missed key lines of dialogue because the audio mixing prioritizes ambient noise over human speech, making it especially hard to follow along at moments.) And the acting is uniformly terrible, with every character over-emoting and pausing for effect as if speaking to a preschool audience, so any investment one might have had in these unlikeable jerks is immediately undercut by the inability to suspend one’s belief that these are real people.

Flora can’t even manage to be visually interesting. Despite being surrounded by a rich and vibrant greenery, blocking is consistently flat and the editing allows uninteresting shots to linger too long, often being too overt in cutting away from supposed body horror that the film clearly doesn’t have the budget to realize on-screen. It also features some very silly sequences that involve the scientists running through a field, ostensibly away from imminently attacking spores that are visually represented with nothing, making their lumbering forms almost comic save for their half-hearted commitment to the shtick. The visual language of a film should work in concert with, or at least make up for, the inadequacies of story and dialogue, but Flora has such minimal understanding of cinematic technique that most anyone should be able to see its inadequacy.

I went into Flora really wanting to like it. The premise is dynamite and could have served as a period drama analogue to The Ruins, pushing isolated personalities against one another in a bid for survival. Instead, Flora doesn’t commit to its tension, the whole affair feels under-written, and the camerawork only reinforces how dull an eternity of 100 minutes can feel. If only this premise had been given the room to spread its roots, it might have blossomed into something special.