A comatose five-year-old girl journeys through a dark industrial dreamscape, following her mother’s voice on a transistor radio to find her way back to consciousness.

Moon Garden is immediately impressive and only develops into something more special as it grows into its Dark Fantasy premise. Beautifully shot on 35mm film by writer and director Ryan Stevens Harris, even the mundane setup of a family of three in conflict glows on the screen. Once the fantasy world it hinges upon kicks in, with its varied and consistently brilliant assortment of practical effect tricks mixed with traditional animation techniques, what follows is true movie magic. The breakout star is both an obvious one, but also vital for the success of the movie, in the director’s five-year-old daughter Haven Lee Harris as Emma. Harris is incredible by any acting standard, let alone that of someone this young, able to perform a wide range of emotions across a twisted wonderland. Being such a practical effects-led project—breaking out every puppetry trick in the book—could only have helped with this, but it’s still an outstanding performance for someone that young.

The family drama is a powerful undercurrent running throughout the story, with Augie Duke as Sara and Brionne Davis as Alex bringing brilliantly complex parents to life. Not only is it the inciting incident that carries the opening of the movie, but further details are also unearthed in this journey through a child’s subconscious that drives the plot further. The good and the bad of each parent infer Emma’s internal wonderland: while she doesn’t always understand what is happening, everything she has seen and heard has changed her. It’s especially powerful in the finale, but it’s a powerful post-viewing chill to reflect upon the subtext of how parents fighting can so significantly harm a child emotionally even without intending to.

The horrific creature simply named Teeth needs a special focus of its own. Brought to life by puppeteer Morgana Ignis with a mix of physical performances Doug Jones would applaud plus a wide variety of other techniques, Teeth is an instantly iconic monster – not to mention a terrifying one. Significant weight is carried by what, thematically, Teeth us: The manifestation of a child’s negative feelings, determined to keep her down and feed upon her misery. There’s more possible to discuss, but it will go into spoiler territory, and the fantastically fearsome Teeth is something everyone needs to see for themselves. In a movie that’s set to explode into pop cultural relevance, filled with fabulous performances from all involved, Ignis is a notable talent to single out. Only going from strength to strength as a monster performer since really breaking out in 2016, finding what she has already done, and watching for what she will do next is going to be a cornerstone of horror fandom going forwards.

A creative and emotional journey with a terrifying monster in hot pursuit, to see Moon Garden is to experience something truly special. The main takeaway as the credits roll is a persistent euphoria at having seen something the scope and scale of that which rarely comes along. The wonderful practical effects, supplemented by a wide range of animation instead of CGI,  powerful performances from all involved, and the rare raw emotion that it elicits with ease. This is an obvious successor to Pan’s Labyrinth in being a modern-day fairy tale with an uncompromising horror element, yet is also distinctly its own thing that can only be accurately described by referencing itself. If I had to name a modern masterpiece that has emerged in the 2020’s so far, I would happily name Moon Garden. As a stand-out even amongst Hollywood mega budget movies, this is simply must-watch cinema on every level.


We Watched Moon Garden as Part of the 2022 Grimmfest Line-up

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