Directed by: Ryan Stevens Harris
Written by: Ryan Stevens Harris
Starring: Angie Duke, Brionne Davis, Haven Lee Harris, Morgana Ignis
Out of all the films I was planning to see at this year’s Grimmfest, Moon Garden is perhaps the one that stood out most. This is due in no small part to the film’s striking visuals and exciting premise. Moon Garden is a peculiar piece of work in which traditional narrative gives way to imagery and style. So if you’re looking for a solid, coherent story, you will likely be disappointed. And I think, having now seen it, that will likely remain the case.
There is a story, of course, and we’re introduced to it through a harrowing opening scene in which a mother (Angie Duke as Sara) and daughter attempt to flee from her husband (Brionne Davis as Alex). Sara and Alex’s heated arguments culminate in their young daughter suffering a near-fatal accident that leaves her comatose. From here on in, we follow 5-year-old Emma (Haven Lee Harris) as she navigates her own subconscious, guided home by her mother’s voice on a small radio.
Wolfgang Meyer’s cinematography is key to making this film work, as colour here is essential. He bathes the opening scenes in a perpetual blue hue, emphasising the coldness of this family unit and the lack of warmth in the household. Then, as we move into Emma’s subconscious, the colour palette embodies a far more sinister character. Emma’s subconscious is a nightmarish dreamscape, resplendent with loud colours and flashing lights, that lends an eerie and dizzying quality to the film, evoking the likes of Dario Argento’s Suspiria.
I’m reluctant to call Moon Garden “experimental” as I don’t think that really favours it. However, the film undeniably has elements of the abstract about it. More than anything, though, it seems clear that much inspiration has been taken from the works of Guillermo del Toro: the film has a dark fairytale vibe with a unique steampunk aesthetic, and the incredible creature design, practical effects and use of specific camera techniques – like shooting on 35mm – do a lot of work here.
There are some stellar performances here, too, particularly from Haven Lee Harris, the young daughter of director Ryan Stevens Harris. Harris gives a fine performance in the central role of Emma; she carries the weight of the movie on her shoulders almost entirely. The fact that she can put out a sympathetic and consistent showing is nothing less than remarkable.
Another standout performance is that of Morgana Ignis as the creature simply known as Teeth. A manifestation of Emma’s anxieties and fears, Teeth is an unnerving and frightful being. And Ignis’ performance here is superb! The creature design, costume, and makeup work go some way to making for a scary and memorable creature, and they’re done incredibly well here. Nevertheless, there’s a reason that the likes of Doug Jones and Javier Botet are repeatedly chosen for these creature roles: the performer gives the creature its movement, on-screen presence, and essence.
My only real complaint about Moon Garden is that the narrative is very messy. There’s quite a bit of unnecessary (but very beautiful) stuff during the middle of the film, which means it can occasionally feel a little too long, despite being only 93 minutes long. However, for me, the good far outweighs the bad. When the movie finally wraps, we’ve been taken on a beautiful, emotional journey through a visually stunning, intimate, aesthetically pleasing dreamscape full of endearing, fascinating, and occasionally terrifying characters. And that’s no bad thing.