Moon Garden: Boston Underground Film Festival
Dir. Ryan Stevens Harris (2022)
A young girl in a coma must find her way back to her family by journeying through a bizarre landscape of childhood trauma.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
For all of its magic and whimsy, there are some aspects of childhood that really, really suck. If you grew up in a broken household with familial unrest or abuse, childhood can be a time of fear, trauma, and general unease that can carry through to adulthood, affecting you in ways that you can’t imagine or even identify at times. Beyond the future effects, however, are the effects on your actual childhood, where the PTSD received from experiencing these forms of trauma thrust its sufferers into a world of nightmares and night terrors that last for years. Moon Garden deals with these themes in brilliant ways, telling a clear and coherent story while maintaining a dreamlike visual aesthetic that is used with incredible effect.
Moon Garden is an interesting film, almost like a live-action Mad God, filled with Lynchian nightmares and horrific, steampunk-inspired visuals. The animation is flawless and macabre, filled with monstrous creatures and terrifying scenery. The film does a fantastic job of putting the audience into a child’s nightmares, bringing them right back to those visions that could only be seen when you close your eyes at night underneath your Mickey Mouse sheets or Ninja Turtles bedspread. (I had both, thank you very much.) Moon Garden feels like Jim Henson on crack, and it’s a film that will stick with you long after watching. It’s surprisingly effective, and it’s not often that you find an indie film that feels this powerful and impactful. The conceptual framework of monsters that feed on the fear of children is scary enough; seeing them play out in the nightmares of a child is even more terrifying.
Director Ryan Stevens Harris does a phenomenal job in the film, which manages to tell the story despite most of the runtime taking place in the dream world of an five-year-old girl. It’s a story that’s brilliantly told, which couldn’t have been easy in a film like this. Newcomer Haven Lee Harris, who plays five-year-old Emma, is outstanding, an undeveloped comparison to Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth. Harris, who also headed the animation and visual effects teams on the film, overperformed in those roles as well, doing a truly magnificent job of crafting a visual world that truly feels like a bad dream. The hallucinatory aesthetic is chilling, filled with all sorts of creepy crawlies and some terrific creature design. This one was surprisingly good, and it’s one that deserves to be seen. When one of your villains is simply called “Teeth,” you know you’re in for a good time.
Who this movie is for: Fantasy horror lovers, Scary animation fans, People who suffer from night terrors
Bottom line: Moon Garden is well worth a watch for fans of fantasy horror, and it is a quite brilliant exploration of childhood trauma. It does a great job of showing that sometimes those things that scared us as children are still pretty damn scary as adults. It’s a coherently told story with some truly nightmarish visuals, the type of “film as art” that yearns to be seen. The film is getting distribution from Oscilloscope, the fantastic distributor responsible for numerous outstanding films, including my favorite documentary of all time: Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (and if you haven’t seen that one, please drop everything and watch it immediately). If you get a chance, I highly recommend checking this one out, because it’ll stick with you for a while.