Moon Garden Movie Review: A Beautiful, Nightmarish Ride

It’s easy to see that Ryan Stevens Harris’ feature film debut, Moon Garden, takes its cues from established niche directors such as David Lynch and Guillermo Del Toro. From the eerie, dreamlike world that our main character wanders through for most of the movie to the oddball characters we meet along the way, the influences are certainly noticeable in this 93-minute ride. But it doesn’t take too long for the movie to find its footing and become its own individual feature. And once it does, it truly becomes something that is equally horrifying and emotionally impactful.

Not all adults can fully grasp what a child witnesses during their dreams or nightmares; we can only imagine it as they tell it to us in real time. And even then, we as adults may not be able to get the actual representation correct. But what Harris concocts is something that is so unique to how terrifying a child’s nightmare could be. One could say that it kind of helps to have Harris’ real-life daughter, Haven Lee Harris, play the child star of the movie, Emma. And while that may have been beneficial, Moon Garden is also an exceptional debut that showcases the incredible skillset Harris has as a director, writer, editor, and numerous other roles.

There’s never a moment where some silly monster walks in front of the camera or loud sounds of someone saying “Boo” make a desperate attempt to startle the audience. What Harris has crafted is something that is legitimately terrifying. It’s a lean script in terms of speaking parts, but it’s packed with magnificent visuals.

Emma is the only child of Alex (Brionne Davis) and Sara (Augie Duke). She’s loving, imaginative, and has the bluest eyes of anyone that you’ll meet. Her parents are struggling to keep their marriage intact, as Alex is desperate to get his new novel out and Sara battles depression. Some of the arguments become heated to the point where Alex is borderline violent toward Sara while Emma is present.

One night, as the couple is in the middle of another argument, Emma overhears the two and tries to make them stop. Emma accidentally slips on one of her toys and falls down the stairs, knocking herself unconscious.

While her parents and the medical staff are trying to wake her up, Emma enters a phantasmagoric world that is foggy, vibrant in color, and downright eerie. Emma can see and hear the people in the real world, as they try to resuscitate her. She calls for their attention to let them know she’s OK, and it’s heartbreaking to see when Emma realizes that no one can hear her. The young Harris is incredibly convincing in her debut role.

The characters Emma meets have no name, but each one has their own little quirks and titles to remember them by, such as Musician (Phillip E. Walker) or Groom (Timothy Lee DePriest). They all lend a hand in helping Emma return to the real world and escape the wrath of a character known only as Teeth (Morgana Ignis). This faceless creature roams the world with its teeth chattering nonstop and, on occasion, will do some other unthinkable things with them to antagonize Emma.

By using expired 35mm film stock and vintage rehoused lens, Ryan Stevens Harris is able to take advantage of the grainy, old-fashioned look to make the dreamlike world much more authentic and eerie. Blending that with practical effects and stop-motion animation makes Moon Garden one of the most gorgeous indie features to be released in years.

Harris goes big for his debut feature, and Moon Garden hits all the right spots in being a compelling entry in the horror genre. It’s safe to say that this film will have a following once word of mouth gets around. And it absolutely deserves it.

Moon Garden releases to theaters on May 19, 2023.

Posted in ,

David Wangberg

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Search & Filter