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From The Boston Underground Film Festival: ‘Moon Garden’ Review

Dir. Ryan Stevens Harris — 2 Stars

A child stands in the ocean in a still from "Moon Garden."
A child stands in the ocean in a still from "Moon Garden." By Courtesy of Boston Underground Film Festival
By Cate A. Engles, Contributing Writer

Ryan Stevens Harris creates a dystopian fairy-tale universe in his film “Moon Garden” that was shown at the 2023 Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF). The film originally premiered in June 2022 and was put in the running for awards this past weekend. After five days of film viewing, the festival goers voted it the Audience’s Choice Best Feature Film. The film features the child-like horror of the industrialized machines in Harris’ underworld and the characters that govern it. Throughout the entire showing, the mix of horrifying special effects and animation had the audience’s heart rate running high.

The film “Moon Garden” follows a young family in the midst of a tumultuous time in the parents’ marriage. Emma, their only daughter, is only five years old but well-aware of the tension between her mother and father. When she goes into a coma after an accident in her home, the movie turns into a retrospective odyssey for Emma to find and unite her parents. Through her comatose, she fights the demons of her real life that have been reincarnated into monsters of her alternate universe.

Harris sets the somber mood with blue dusk-like lighting that is casted over both the family and Emma as she journeys through the many worlds of her imagination. The moon motif that comes from the title of the film is beautifully maintained through the harbingers in the spherical light fixtures of the family home, Emma’s homemade drawings, and even the mother’s blonde bob — which floats on top of her head like the moon.

“Moon Garden” combines many filming techniques to take its audience on the same eventful fever dream that its main character experiences. The set design is half enchanted forest, half decrepit factory, forcing the viewers to constantly be worried about Emma. Certainly the oozing blood and slithering faceless characters comfortably situate this film into the horror genre.

Although the audience is set up to worry for Emma while she ventures through the frightening world Harris created, it is difficult to develop a true empathetic connection to either her character or her parents. The plot-line establishes that there are verbally combative issues between the couple, but their origins are never fully explained. The lack of background on these family problems can cause the audience to constantly question the necessity behind these scenes.

Crucial dialogue is also missing from the movie. The fights between the parents lack believability, because no cause for the fight is ever explicitly mentioned. Additionally, the interactions between the parents and Emma are overly simplified for a character that is distinguished as smarter than other kids her age.

BUFF audience members delighted in the thrill of visual experience that Harris gave in “Moon Garden.” Despite the weak plot-line and clichéd dialogue, the film keeps the viewer engaged through its twisting and turning in addition to the visuals.

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