Moon Garden (2020) Review
Anyone who grew up in a dysfunctional household knows just how traumatic childhood can be. In Moon Garden, writer/director Ryan Stevens Harris (Shred the Master Design, Virus X) visualizes those traumas as the nightmarish denizens of the dark, industrial wasteland that a young girl finds herself trapped in.
Emma (Haven Lee Harris, Every Dream is a Child with Teeth, One is the Loneliest Number) lives with her parents Sara (Augie Duke, The Amityville Moon, Clown Fear) and Alex (Brionne Davis, Fire City: End of Days, Mom and Dad). They love Emma, but they don’t love each other anymore.
After getting a scare one night she runs to their room, only to encounter something even scarier, the two of them in the midst of a loud, intense argument. Running from it she trips and takes a fall down the stairs which leaves her in a coma. Her struggle to awake from it becomes a nightmarish trip through a grim fantasy world populated by the creatures of her imagination, most notably the fiend known as Teeth (Morgana Ignis, Satanic Hispanics, Cucuy: The Boogeyman).
Moon Garden is a hard film to describe, Pan’s Labyrinth crossed with Mad God perhaps, or a post-industrial Alice in Wonderland. It’s an exercise in nightmare logic with little in the way of an actual plot beyond Emma’s attempts to follow her mother’s voice to safety, flashbacks to times both happy and sad with her parents, and encounters with this world’s inhabitants.
Those inhabitants include The Princess (Maria Olsen, Scare Package II: Rad Chad’s Revenge, The Resort), a Bride (Téa Mckay, Texas Zombie Wars: El Paso Outpost, Unbridled) and Groom (Timothy Lee DePriest, Westworld, Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders), The Mud Witch (Angelica Ulloa, Clickbait, Gnome Alone), a Musician (Phillip E. Walker, What Still Remains, Bloody Hands) and almost as disturbing looking as Teeth, a headless, Ballerina (Emily Meister) who likes to knit.
What sets Moon Garden apart is its astonishing visuals. The world itself is incredibly designed and detailed, Ryan Stevens Harris was the film’s art director and production designer along with John Michael Elfers and Delarey Wagener (Donkey Punch, Dutch) and they’ve created a convincingly menacing world on what appears to have been a low budget.
Harris also had a hand in Moon Garden’s effects and along with Michael A. Martinez (Baphomet, Moon Knight) and Jeffrey Olney (The Fate of the Furious, Run with the Hunted) create everything from a piano that puts itself back together to a giant rhinoceros like creature. As far as I can tell it’s all done with practical techniques ranging from reverse photography to stop-motion animation and even traditional animation, also done by Harris.
Anchoring all of Moon Garden’s visuals is an extremely solid performance by Haven Lee Harris as Emma. She’s utterly charming and convincing as the little girl lost. Genre vet Maria Olsen delivers a touching performance as well. As the parents Davis and Duke are solid although their roles are somewhat limited. As an added bonus it was nice seeing Duke in something besides a scream-and-die type role.
Mixing the touching, at one point The Musician strums a harp-like instrument as we hear Emma’s mother sing Harry Nilsson’s “Without You” with the more nightmarish, Teeth is a frankly terrifying figure, Moon Garden is a compelling work of fantasy that straddles the line between arthouse and suburban multiplex sensibilities.
Oscilloscope Laboratories will release Moon Garden to theatres starting with New York City’s IFC Center on May 19th. A list of theatres and dates can be found on the film’s website. Blu-ray and Digital availability is yet to be announced, but you can check there for announcements. While you wait, FilmTagger can suggest some similar titles to hold you over.