Title: Moon Garden
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Ryan Stevens Harris
Starring: Augie Duke, Haven Lee Harris, Brionne Davis
Runtime: 1 hr 33 mins
What It Is: Emma (Harris) is a little girl who tries not to worry about the fate of her parents’ increasingly turbulent marriage and fixes herself to her imagination to cope. Her mother (Duke) attempts to take her and Emma away and separate from Emma’s father, but the attempt fails, leading to her parents having a great big fight, upsetting Emma, and causing her to run away only to fall down the stair and hit her head, putting herself into a coma. As a result, Emma is stuck in a strange and sometimes terrifying dream world and has to find her way back to her parents.
What We Think: Honestly, I think a part of me wasn’t sure movies like these were still being made, which is a little cynical of me, but also serves this film as even more of a refreshing, pleasant surprise. For what I hope is what it takes to put its filmmaker in the spotlight, this surreal-adventure odyssey harkens back to the days of strange and epic fantasy movies with memorable designs and layered atmospheres, much like The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Spirited Away, Alice in Wonderland, and Coraline… The sheer craft that it took to create this movie goes above and beyond where others would struggle to convey a lot of the imagery and concepts, this filmmaker makes it look convincingly straight out of a dream, with every shot a painting. The scope of which were able to traverse these dreamscapes is also an incredible feat, as our leading girl Emma finds herself in a variety of surreal scenes and coming across odd characters, all of which the designs for nail an uncanny creepy yet warm nostalgia, tied with an at-times heartwrenching emotional story that will surely connect to brave kids and adults alike. I found this work to be strikingly personal, with the young Harris as the lead convincing and a joy to watch. Her parents also turn out to be very well-written, with loving and surprisingly intimate dialogue that reminds us of how difficult it can be to be a parent or even just an adult. With an amazing script, the emotional story folds so beautifully into the visuals as–and it’s hard to even describe–Emma’s fantastical journey parallels her own experiences and feelings, and the potential she has to enjoy life itself. Being put in her shoes as she navigates through bizarre, nonsensical landscapes and overcomes obstacles through sheer will makes you feel like a little kid feeling all these fears and emotions and internal conflicts for the first time; the experience is absolutely magical, as it is valuable both narratively and visually.
Our Grade: A, Daring and insanely creative, this cerebral film is sure to permeate your consciousness as it awakens something nostalgic within its older audience, without sacrificing the engagement of the child within. I could honestly imagine being a young girl and seeing this for the first time and having my mind blown, but viewing it as a 23-year-old woman still hits home as it brings me back to my own lucid dreams and intense discoveries as a child, and how much I loved the idea of exploring new, fantastical worlds. Moon Garden is an enchanting, enthralling project with intelligent and limitless design all in its diverse film techniques, impressive yet practical editing, gorgeous cinematography, and keen direction. I’m eager to see more from its filmmaker, and I feel so grateful for such a rich cinematic experience, I’m urging anyone else with a playful imagination to take a leap into this intensely cool, beautiful sure-to-be cult classic, especially since it’s arriving in theaters very soon.