Moon Garden - Grimmfest International Premiere Review
Director: Ryan Stevens Harris
Starring: Haven Lee Harris, Augie Duke, Brionne Davis, Morgana Ignis
Written by: Ryan Stevens Harris
Produced by: John Michael Elfers, Colleen Harris
Cinematography by: Wolfgang Meyer
Original Score by: Michael Deragon
A comatose five-year-old girl journeys through an industrial wonderland to find her way back to consciousness.
The mind's imagination is routinely hailed as being one of the most powerful and important parts of the human body. In 'Moon Garden' it's presented as a fantasy world for a little girl who is trying to guide herself back into consciousness after a life-threatening fall in her home puts her in a coma. Filled with creepy aesthetics and technically creative set pieces 'Moon Garden' works as a small budget dark fairytale with dreamlike visuals and an impressively emotional narrative.
Emma is a happy enough little girl living in a broken home. Her parents, who once were deeply in love, now fight with each other constantly and one night Emma interrupts a screaming match. As she retreats from her parents bedroom where the argument is unfolding, Emma trips on a toy at the top of the landing and crashes down the stairs, banging her head and losing consciousness. Emma slips into a coma and also slips into a dreamy, fantasy world of her own mind. In this world Emma can still walk, talk, run and swim and she'll have to navigate her way through multiple dangerous and dark realms because this world is full of weird creatures and a horrifying antagonist that stalks her every move.
Ten minutes into 'Moon Garden' and it's clear that writer/director Ryan Stevens Harris comes from an editing background with an affinity for 90's industrial, alternative rock bands. The film definitely wouldn't look out of place playing on Kerrang or Scuzz (remember that channel) as it is very reminiscent of a Marilyn Manson music video showered in autumnal colours, complete with jarring camera shakes and zooms.
Emma's surreal 'Alice in Wonderland' like interactions as her journey progresses help her to reconnect with her own reality and the love that her parents have for her brings her closer to regaining consciousness. Each checkpoint on her journey is a reflection of the severity of her real life condition. The narrative may be a bit thin but Haven Lee Harris, who plays Emma, really brings out enough emotion during her perilous adventure at every stage, which is the real driving force of the story. She is exceptional as the lost young girl trying to find her way around this grim but fantastical playground. I was really impressed by her poise and the delivery of her lines, considering that it's quite a physical performance. Apparently the film was shot over a period of three years so there is some inconsistency with the girls features because of her age but its hidden as well as can be and if anything, it adds a little oddness to this surreal environment.
I was in awe of just how well the film uses miniatures and camera tricks in the set pieces. I love old school camera magic and Harris certainly adopts those techniques rather than relying on CG, probably a budget issue too. You can tell some of the locations are the same set piece and the shakes and zooms and camera transitions are overused but it's difficult not to applaud Harris and cinematograher Wolfgang Meyer's creativeness. There are some gorgeous nightmarish and industrial landscapes that I felt were heavily influenced visually by 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' and the earlier works of Richard Stanley and even thematically by the likes of 'Labyrinth'. Always a huge fan of stop motion or reverse filming and simple but effective ways of shooting something to make it look a little different and the team do a stellar job here, particuarly when the creepy stalker, with its strange top hat and grotesque chattering teeth, is onscreen.
'Moon Garden' received its International Premiere at Grimmfest on October 8th