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‘Moon Garden’ (review)

Moon Garden is a phantasmagoria.

It is not a horror film so much as it is a showcase for a certain kind of dark surrealism. It is shamelessly derivative of a number of films, but must be commended for its ability to generate striking images on a very small budget.

It is not a film for mass audience appeal– even if it found its way into multiplexes, who would know what to do with it there?

It is not interested in the construction of a story so much as it is the exploration of feelings that cannot be put into words, because they simmer at the edges of a child’s life.

It is a film about being confronted by what you cannot even articulate, but dread all the same.

Moon Garden is about a young girl, the press materials say she’s five, but she seems younger than that in the film, who is injured by falling down the stairs shortly after her mother tries to escape an abusive relationship with her and is stopped by her father.

The rest of the film is the nightmare of her own subconscious, which reflects the tensions she lives under and that she must navigate in order to return to consciousness. That’s it– that’s the whole story.

The metaphors are not exactly subtle: and this is my major gripe with the film. This is not the exploration of a five year old’s subconscious, this is the exploration of a grown man’s conception of what visual metaphors would be interesting to find in a five year old’s subconscious who found herself in this situation. It is continually ominous, the use of music to set mood and atmosphere is excellent. But it’s a meal made for and made by adults– it lacks all the borderline insane free association that a genuine child’s imagination creates when no one is watching them at play.

Ironically, embracing that crazed nickelodeon of a child’s imagination where favorite television shows flow freely into the snippets of imagined rumor about the town you live in and the monsters you imagine haunt, which might then flow freely into a snippet of show your Mom and Dad were watching that you really shouldn’t have been which flow back into the comfort of domesticity would have been both more off-putting and more surreal. We could have had the cinematic equivalent of the classic game EarthBound where children battle Lovecraftian abominations with wiffle ball bats and yo-yo’s.

Returning to the film we actually got: much was made about the use of distressed 35mm film in creating the visuals they are inventive enough, and the creature effects are convincing (and practical, for once) for any budget, and so special praise must be lavished on them in the context of a low budget indie film.

I particularly enjoyed the use of deep blood red throughout the dream state , and the ghoulish guide who felt like a tip of the cap to creeper classic Carnival of Souls. Director Ryan Stevens Harris definitely takes time to craft compelling imagery and atmospheric soundscapes. He even gets a really good performance from his very young child actor, and resists many of the pitfalls that usually doom children in jeopardy films. This is definitely worth watching, as much as I wish it took the implicit power of its premise to the next level.

Recommended.

*   *  *  *  *
Produced by John Michael Elfers
Written and Directed by Ryan Stevens Harris
Starring Augie Duke, Brionne Davis, Haven Lee Harris, Maria Olsen,
Timothy Lee DePriest, Phillip E. Walker, Morgana Ignis

Moon Garden opens today in select theaters.
For more details visit MoonGarden.Oscilloscope.net
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