"Moon Garden" is unlike anything I've seen of late and is one of my favorite film experiences of the year.
“Moon Garden” is flat out bonkers, but in the best possible way. A film that starts out like a run of the mill story of a family on the verge of fracture quickly morphs into an film experience that defied all my expectations. I loved it.
Ryan Stevens Harris paints a nightmarish hellscape with "Moon Garden" that depicts the traumas of childhood, especially those of growing up in a broken home. I was fortunate to have an almost idyllic childhood but knew many who came from fractured and broken homes, and "Moon Garden" might be the best visual representation of what a child goes through internally.
Sure, there may not be teeth-chattering monsters stalking you at every turn, but there are monsters, nonetheless. Some come from without, and some from within, but each of us carries baggage that is always lurking just far enough in the shadows where we can see it but never quite know what shape it holds.
From Emma (Haven Le Harris), her traumas are presented right at the beginning when her mother, Sara (Augie Duke), awakens her in the middle of the night and instructs her to grab her backpack so they can go look at the night sky. Once in the family car, Emma notices more luggage, but more importantly, she notices that her dad is absent. But before they can leave, Sara's husband, Alex (Brionne Davis), closes the garage door and takes Emma back to bed.
Her mother sings her to sleep, but not too long after, when she awakes with noises scratching at the walls and rushes to her parent's room only to find them in the middle of a huge screaming match. Having had enough, she screams at them to stop and then runs from the room and, in the process, trips on the stairs and has a tumble, hitting her head and slipping into a coma.
This is where the weirdness begins.
Like a distorted acid-soaked version of "The Wizard of Oz," Emma's new reality is that of a rotting, dark industrial landscape with friends and foes littering the way back to her parents. Her Wayfinder to help her navigate the twists and turns of this world is an old AM/FM radio that she can use to hear her parents. The main baddie in the film is teeth chattering specter that hunts Emma throughout, feasting on her tears, and its threat is what keeps the tension in the film ratcheted up the entire time.
"Moon Garden" is a rare flick that’s fresh and inventive but with a rad 90s indie vibe you can't mistake. It feels like a movie you'd stumble upon at 2:37 a.m. on IFC (Independent Film Channel) when you're 16 with your head buzzing from too much caffeine and too many ideas. This movie will make you think and have you talking about it long after the screen goes dark.
This flick is weird and begs to be experienced. Harris does some great things and makes some bold choices. He used expired 35mm film stock, stop motion animation, reversed time-lapse techniques, and filters to give this world a beauty you don't find in every movie. It's not traditional beauty as defined in the dictionary, but beauty as defined by the dreams we have and so desperately cling to when the morning tries to wipe them away. It's visually stunning.
"Moon Garden" is a surreal trip I highly suggest you take. It's unlike anything I've seen of late and is one of my favorite film experiences of the year.