Living through domestic abuse can harm a person for decades. It does not only affect those physically abused, but for the children of abuse victims, the way they view the world shifts. How can you trust, love, or believe the best in people when those meant to protect you do the opposite? Moon Garden, the second feature from Ryan Stevens Harris, places you in the shoes of a young girl battling through a nightmare world. With Harris’ direction, the horror odyssey showcases pure visual creativity and genuine horror bonafides in its trippy world.
A young girl Emma (Haven Lee Harris) watches her parents (Augie Duke and Brionne Davis) fight. When she asks them to stop, she falls down a flight of stairs. Her resulting coma pushes the child into an out-of-body experience. However, the world of her nightmares features a horrifying monster seeking to capture her.
Harris directs the heck out of Moon Garden. Directing children is never easy in a horror feature. Yet Harris never pulls punches. Instead, he allows Haven to put herself into the role, while he actively tries to scare her. There’s a sweetness to the way he observes her on camera and that empathetic lens transfers to the audience. We root for her survival throughout, and Harris capitalizes by ensuring we feel authentic dread throughout Moon Garden.
To further showcase the creativity, DP Wolfgang Meyer pulls every splash of color out of the brilliant designs. While Moon Garden seems to draw from both Alice in Wonderland and Nightmare on Elm Street, it bears almost no resemblance to those films. Instead, Harris and his team want us to feel the grimy, industrial world bursting with color. While the hypnotic designs reveal the motivations behind the story, Harris keeps us on our toes with his eye.
Meyer and Harris utilize light to perfection. With a monster spouting a dark void of a face, this becomes a necessity. Yet they shine blue beams of light in the backgrounds of otherwise dark shots. In addition, they add brilliant hues of red throughout Moon Garden. There’s no reason this lo-fi style should pop so brilliantly. Yet, with Harris coordinating the departments to bring his vision to life, Moon Garden overflows with creativity.
While Harris and Haven team well, the rest of the cast could have used a few more takes. The most difficult turns come from Duke and Davis. They both present issues for the film and do not present believable pathos. This hurts Moon Garden considerably. The underwritten and borderline illogically written mother from Duke is partially on Harris’ shoulders. However, the performance does him few favors.
While some will write off Moon Garden as Nightmare on Elm Street with more trauma, that undersells the achievement. The story might feel familiar, but the visuals will exceed your expectations. It makes Moon Garden one of the more exciting indies of the summer.