2022 • USA • 96 min.
Director: Ryan Stevens Harris
Screenwriter: Ryan Stevens Harris
Cast: Augie Duke, Brionne Davis, Haven Lee Harris, Maria Olsen, Morgana Ignis
March 25, 2023 @ 12:30 pm
While fleeing from her arguing parents late one night, five-year-old Emma (Haven Lee Harris) slips into a coma after tumbling down a flight of stairs. She awakens in a strange new world, a twisted industrial wasteland rooted deep in her subconscious. There she confronts strange and wondrous creatures, pursued by a malevolent being (Morgana Ignis) hungry for her tears. Throughout her ordeal, Emma is guided by the voices of her parents (and the haunting melody of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”), broadcasting through a transistor radio, urging her back from the purgatorial world in which she’s imprisoned.
Ryan Stevens Harris’s extraordinary Moon Garden takes us on a phantasmagoric odyssey through the psyche of a comatose child. Harris’s ambitious work uses child trauma as a springboard for a spellbinding cinematic journey, leading us down treacherous paths, while channeling youthful exuberance in fleeting moments of gentle whimsy. Those carrying childhood scars (i.e. everyone) will easily connect with this bold and visionary tale, a surreal expedition where witches are borne of mud, or a gargantuan rhino can serve as convenient transportation. The stunning presentation, captured on 35mm film by Wolfgang Meyer, uses vivid color, and spectacular special effects, to deliver an emotionally-resonant and visceral story that’s as family-friendly as one could expect in an underground film festival that champions devastating art.
Moon Garden is a lyrical fantasy that evokes the imaginative realms found in challenging, child-centric works like Paperhouse, Pan’s Labyrinth, Mirrormask, and City of Lost Children, a frightening tableau with danger lurking around every corner, within a framework designed to subvert the romanticized notion of childhood. Through lush imagery and unnerving sequences, the director offers a sobering portrayal of youthful wonder and uncertainty, while weaving adult themes of human fragility and familial fragmentation into a tapestry of bizarre beauty. The film is a testament to the power of child resiliency and enduring love, a sensory feast driven by raw emotion, and anchored by a remarkable child performance. While it may be suitable for mature offspring of BUFF’s adventurous audience, hold them tight, for this one has teeth and claws.