Review: Moon Garden


One of the things I like most about writing for Flixist is covering films that people may not have heard of. The little films. The indie films. The films that don’t get major theatrical releases. When they pop up, it takes a lot for them to catch my interest, and Moon Garden caught my interest. It was a dark fantasy film that seemed to be a mix of Return to Oz, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Repo! The Genetic Opera. So in other words, it was right up my alley.

I’m always interested in a darker take on certain genres, as long as they can pull it off. If there’s something unique to the darkness, or a certain beauty behind it, then it can grab my attention easily. I’m not someone who likes darkness for the sake of darkness, since then it starts to radiate edginess and seems like it’s stirring the pot just for the sake of it. Darkness is valid, but it needs a purpose. I don’t think that Moon Garden can be accused of being a dark movie just because it wanted to be frightening or bleak or nihilistic. There’s an artistry behind it, making it a captivating watch, though one that struggles to justify its 93-minute runtime.

Moon Garden - Official Trailer - Oscilloscope Laboratories HD

Moon Garden
Director: Ryan Stevens Harris
Release Date: May 19, 2023 (Limited)

Emma (Haven Lee Harris) is a small girl who witnessed her mom, Sara (Augie Duke), and dad, Alex (Brionne Davis), getting into an argument. They both love Emma, but their marriage is falling apart due to her mother’s depression and her dad being incredibly overworked. An accident happens that causes Emma to fall into a coma and wake up in a strange and dark fantasy world. She’s guided by radio static that sounds like her mother, thinking that if she gets closer and closer to the sound of her mother, she may be able to wake up. However, she’s being chased by a monster called Teeth, who wishes nothing more than for Emma to suffer so he can feed on her tears. Can Emma regain consciousness, or will she be lost to the darkness?

Visually, I virtually love everything about the dark world that Emma finds herself in. It’s a decayed world that appears to simultaneously be overrun by nature but seems to have been built on the foundation of rotting technology. The world is bathed in blood-red hues and is full of strange and twisted imagery. This is by far the most visually arresting movie I’ve seen this year and despite us not even being more than halfway through the year, Moon Garden sets a high bar. I’d be interested in seeing this movie as a silent film, which was the original intent according to the director because the world alone would command my attention. I won’t say I want to live in this world, because I don’t in the slightest, but it’s a world I would love to see more of since I think there’s such potential in exploring more elements of this universe.

Take the monsters for example. While they’re not named in the film, the central monster, Teeth, is a creepy delight. He’s this large and looming figure dressed like a train conductor that mostly floats around and constantly stalks Emma. He has no face. Instead, there’s a gaping void of darkness, with a set of rotting dentures constantly chattering inside of his head. He never says anything, but when you hear the sound of chattering teeth, it’s unnerving to listen to and you know that this monster is coming ever closer. I also love the mannequin monster that appears stitched together and communicates via paintings, each with its own different emotion, as it tells Emma a twisted version of her father’s children’s story. The imagination on display here is wonderous and lends itself a lot to interpretation as to what it all means and represents.

Review: Moon Garden

Copyright: Oscilloscope Laboratories

That is, at least the elements that take place in this fantasy world. The film jumps between the world that Emma finds herself in and the real world, where either Emma’s hospitalized and her family is talking to her, or it’s a flashback to one of Emma’s happy memories before the accident. You can tell what’s going on and how these happy memories actually hide the problems that her family is going through, but once you piece together what’s happening in reality, the scenes almost instantly become repetitive. By the hour mark where we see Emma wanting to play with her mom while she’s lying in bed, too depressed to move, I already know what the movie is trying to imply. Emma has a childlike innocence and looks past the darkness around her, which is what she needs to do to survive this monstrous world she finds herself. When the film reaches that conclusion, you have to wonder what took it so long to do so.

Speaking of, I’m torn about Emma as a character. I am aware that actress Haven Lee Harris is a literal child, but there’s something that doesn’t sit quite right with me about using an actress as young as her for a role like this, especially because she’s the director’s actual daughter. I get wanting to capture childlike innocence and you need someone who can play a 5-year-old who is unaware of the realities her family is facing, but it’s still casting a child in a film that can be terrifying at times. When she cries, there’s nothing glamorous about it. It hits you because no one wants to hear a child cry and you feel like she’s actually crying from how disturbing everything is. It hits a chord that’s a bit too close to home, and I don’t even have a child!

At the same time, the movie limits itself to how much Emma can interact with the world since they didn’t want to expose Harris to too much nightmare fuel. I mean, there are some unsettling scenes in the movie, like where Teeth rips out his… uh… teeth… and throws them at Emma from the toilet, but these dark beats always feel detached from what’s happening with Emma. Combine that with a nightmare machine that tries to make her cry and looks like it’s from A Clockwork Orange and you have a world that is ripe for exploring but is limited by what they can do with their very young child actress. If Emma was an older child, one who could try and have a more developed arc other than, “I want to find my mother,” then I feel like there would be more depth to the story and her interactions with the larger world. Instead, it feels padded out even at 93 minutes and the final message, while sincere, comes across as a bit basic because of it.

Review: Moon Garden

Copyright: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Moon Garden is a wonderful first draft of a world I want to see more of. The monsters are delicious and the perversion of childhood wonders is great, but by having its central character skew so young, it limits what the filmmakers can actually do with its world. There’s a fantastic movie here, but because of a few decisions that I find limiting, it instead gets knocked down to being just good. And hey, the atmosphere and monsters alone are worth a watch for the record! I can see this becoming a solid cult classic solely because of how raw and dreadful the world is. As it is, it’s a little Indie gem I’m glad I watched, and will probably go on to become an underrated gem for 2023. Not one of the best but definitely a movie that should deserve some recognition for what it attempts rather than its overall delivery.




Moon Garden is an absolutely gorgeous movie whose visuals are worth the price of admission alone, though the film limits itself due to its young actress and moments that exist outside of its gruesome reality.

Jesse Lab
The strange one. The one born and raised in New Jersey. The one who raves about anime. The one who will go to bat for DC Comics, animation, and every kind of dog. The one who is more than a tad bit odd. The Features Editor.