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Moon Garden (Grimmfest 2022)

2 min read

Moon Garden has a creative premise, but the plot isn't up to much. It was directed and written by Ryan Stevens Harris, who was the editor of Moonfall (perhaps the most enjoyable bad film of the year). This was clearly his passion project.

It's sort of a little , a bit of Gilliam, a bit of Jeunet, a lot of MirrorMask… the story itself, however, I thought was really weak. Basically, the whole movie revolved around a five-year-old girl, Emma (Haven Lee Harris) whose parents are arguing. Her mother, Sara (Augie Duke, best known for her role in Spring) tries to get out of a relationship with her abusive husband, Alex (Brionne Davis). She gets dragged back in, and the child gets knocked over and falls down the stairs. From there on she's in a coma. Emma falls into a sort of dream world, where her mom's voice is coming out of radios as she tries to find her way back to consciousness. There are occasional flashbacks to her previous life, and those sections really don't work as well.

There are monsters in the dark, childhood trauma, and nightmarish industrial landscapes made of disused bits of metal and pipes. The sets that look like they came out of The City of Lost Children, achieving an otherworldly quality with a lot of detail. It's all very beautifully designed, and for the most part it's all practical effects or stop-motion animation, shot on 35mm. I can't fault the art direction—Harris is probably better on the visual side and that is all very impressive. Apparently he spent months on a single shot. It's obvious that he has a really good eye and is very patient. Also, it manages to be impressive on a budget that probably ran to rubber bands and glue. The “teeth monster” is especially amazing—a vampiric creature whose hollowed-out face has teeth. The amber, green and red colour scheme certainly recalls Jeunet and Del Toro.

There's a lot to admire, but as far as the story goes, there's not much to it—she just wants to get home and live. It makes you want to watch other films that do the same thing, only with the visuals wrapped around a really good tale. Hopefully on the strength of the visuals Harris will get a bigger project—someone should give him the Wizard of Oz reboot instead of Kenya Barris, for example.

It is definitely not a film for young kids, which will make it a tough sell—like City of Lost Children or many Gilliam films, it's a film about a child that really isn't appropriate for children. 

                     Moon Garden was screened at Grimmfest 2022 and will be released in 2023