I was sold with an image. Thumbing through this year’s schedule for Dances With Films I stopped on one of the stills. In the center stands the silhouette of a young girl with red light beaming from in front of her. She stands in a brick lined interior that is corroded and mysterious. The emerald hues of pipes balance out the frame on either side.
This was the still image for the feature Moon Garden and I knew it would be one of the films I’d watch at Dances With Films 2022. And so it is also, the first review I’ll write from the fest this year. This was the world premiere screening for Moon Garden.
Moon Garden follows a five year old girl, Emma played by Haven Lee Harris who after a family tragedy, finds herself in another realm, a horrific industrial landscape with creatures both docile or deadly. Following her mother’s voice could be her only means of escape.
This movie was shot on 35mm and features stunning physical effects and cinematography. During the Q and A after the screening cinematographer Wolfgang Meyer said they employed many camera techniques such as shutter speed changes and the use of a lens baby, a custom lens for creating an other-worldly effect for a few shots.
Miniature set elements and stop animation were also employed. Hundreds of visual effect shots were needed to composite these amazing practical effects to build the world we see on screen. This imaginative blending of techniques makes Moon Garden a one of a kind cinema find. I love how the fantasy world they create bleeds into the real world, which is akin to Pan’s Labyrinth.
Visually, this movie exhibits the level of dedication to the craft that should earn it a direct to Criterion Collection release. Moon Garden is much more than just a visual feast, it is a wonderful reverie filled with hope and innocence.
There is no doubt, a story here. It is however outweighed by the imagery. It’s a minor note, but I’d say the movie is around 70 percent style, 30 percent story. A fair comparison would say this is a darker, more adult Alice In Wonderland. The strength of the practical effects reminded me of The Never Ending Story.
All of the actors did incredible work during the more emotional scenes. Augie Duke plays Sara, Emma’s loving but troubled mother. Brionne Davis has the role of Alex, Emma’s father who struggles with controlling his anger. These flawed characters were presented naturally, it never felt over-dramatized or forced. It looks like the precursor to Moon Garden is Every Dream is a Child With Teeth, a short film by Ryan Stevens Harris which also stars Haven Lee Harris.
During the Q and A with Writer/Director Ryan Stevens Harris and producer John Michael Elfers, the filmmakers explained how since this was an indie film with a lush visual style, Moon Garden took years to make. You just have to respect that, the way movies like Boyhood stand out in our minds and cinema history.
I would not say this is an abstract or experimental film, rather Moon Garden is a captivating, surreal experience. An experience I highly recommend. When this movie gets the release it deserves, partake in any vice you prefer, buttered popcorn, or something more exotic and enjoy the mind altering sights and sounds of Moon Garden.
10th June 2022
Ryan Stevens Harris
Ryan Stevens Harris
1 hour 33 minutes
THE QUICK SELL
A review of the Fantasy film Moon Garden which had a world premiere at Dances With Films 2022. From Writer/Director Ryan Stevens Harris, Moon Garden is a one of a kind indie film which features stunning visuals. Some comparisons could be Alice In Wonderland and The Never Ending Story.