(Check out Sammy Levine’s movie review for Moon Garden, in theaters Friday, May 19 via Oscilloscope Laboratories. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
Moon Garden, the debut feature of Ryan Stevens Harris is a nightmarish fantasia summoning the twisted visions of Wes Craven, hand crafted textures of Guy Maddin, and zaniness of Courage the Cowardly Dog. While Harris’ film wears its influences on its sleeves, Moon Garden slithers to its own relentlessly slippery and dreamlike beat. It’s a deft and gorgeously produced spectacle that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible so it can deliver the biggest nightmares possible. The lush and grainy photography (shot beautifully by DP Wolfgang Meyer) on degraded celluloid with the retro VFX and ethereal score combine to deliver one cohesive bad head trip. But, a good bad head trip. Moon Garden is a true WTF film destined for cult status that is breathlessly ingenious and crafty beyond measure.
The film kicks off as a standard marital drama; a struggling married couple (intensely and convincingly played by Augie Duke and Brionne Davis) staying together for their precocious child Emma (a star marking turn by Haven Lee Harris). Out of the gate, Moon Garden leans into the campy vibes of a Lifetime Movie. This all changes, when suddenly, one moonlit night, during a particular acidic argument between parents, Emma attempts to escape but falls down the stairs. When she awakes (or appears to awake) she is in a haunted land far-far away. From here, we cross-cut between dreamscapes, memories and reality. Emma embarks on her journey through the twisted maze of her subconscious (peppered in with memories of her emotionally mercurial childhood) in search of a portal back to reality. All the while, her parents remain at Emma’s hospital bedside as she fights for her life. On a narrative front, Moon Garden operates as gatling gun firing off all kinds of craziness, garish creatures and crackling sounds; a full carnival of disturbing yet adventurous surreality.
Moon Garden’s aesthetic resembles a recently discovered long lost attic horror artifact. Its meticulous industrial and ghastly design and bolt tight direction propel the film’s loose dreamy logic and narrative pacing into an ever-engaging twisted lurid nightmare. The production design (by Harris and John Michael Elfers) of this film is sublime; seamlessly interweaves cold antiquated machine imagery (similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Eraserhead) with Terry Gilliam-like fantasy to breathtaking visual effect. In come the fog machines, the tight framing, the unforgettable set pieces (all to the tune of an ominous yet gentle synth soundtrack by Michael Deragon) and you have an unapologetically bold and original vision in full bloom.
Ryan Stevens Harris, who wrote and directed (and edited and animated and sound designed and colored) Moon Garden, has authored a creepy childlike dreamscape of a film. It astonishes and entrances in equal amounts. Although, at times, its surreal giddiness can exhaust, the film knows just when to pull back and allow the narrative and audiences to catch its breath. Ultimately, Moon Garden is a balls-to-the wall piece of genre filmmaking destined to inspire genre film nerds everywhere. This beautifully twisted dark fantasy film is truly a bizarro, singular vision and unforgettably unique spectacle.
– Samuel Levine (@thesammylevine)
Oscilloscope Laboratories; Ryan Stevens Harris; Moon Garden movie review