Vague Visages’ Moon Garden review contains minor spoilers. Ryan Stevens Harris’ 2022 movie stars Augie Duke, Brionne Davis and Haven Lee Harris. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Mindful and magical, Moon Garden stays out of its own way. The charming feature debut from Ryan Stevens Harris plays gently with nostalgia but doesn’t bombard the audience with everything, everywhere, all at once. Told from the perspective of a comatose child, Moon Garden celebrates the art of storytelling as a superhero power; a way to strengthen familial bonds across generations, a way to experience otherworldly realms through audiovisual associations.
Moon Garden explores the mind of Emma (Haven Lee Harris), a five-year-old girl who slips into a coma after falling down a basement staircase. The child thinks about her feuding mother and father, along with all the life lessons they provided on especially memorable days. Harris’ world-building and color palette calls to mind the work of Guillermo del Toro, while a series of first-act scare sequences pay homage to classic horror visuals, whether it’s a red room or a hand sprouting from the ground. As young Emma navigates her mind — while using a dream radio to process messages from the real world — the director steadily reinforces audiovisual connections for the audience, thus making it easy to follow the protagonist’s logic.
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Narrative clarity allows Harris more room to experiment with genre and tone. For example, he incorporates traditional faceless monsters and jump scares but also includes a second half sci-fi sequence that vibes more with Alex Garland’s filmography than 80s-era fantasy flicks. Since Emma naturally can’t think too far into the past (unlike nostalgia-loving viewers), she can only consider what is and what could be. And so Harris’ storytelling and visual design becomes more creative as the protagonist processes her hopes and fears. Moon Garden explains the rhythm of Emma’s mind while frequently returning to a powerful musical motif — Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself.”
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Moon Garden’s storytelling techniques resonate just as much as the spectacular visual design. Whereas many dream-state films get in their own way with too much flair, Harris essentially operates as an efficient tour guide, always reminding the audience that there is indeed a clear path out.
More than just another dream-state drama, Moon Garden is a moving ode to mother-daughter bonds. It’s a film about healing and recovery, but it’s also very much about rebirth and all the sounds that influence our journey from the womb to the real world, or from a place of darkness to a place of enlightenment.
Moon Garden released on May 19, 2023 via Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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Categories: 2020s, 2023 Film Reviews, 2023 Horror Reviews, Drama, Fantasy, Featured, Horror
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