The Garden

Director: Don Michael Paul

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Lance Henrikson plays the weird old codger with a cane in The Garden (2005), always breathing smoke, cigarette in hand. His name is Ben Zachery & there's something demonic about him, though he collects comic books, has a lovely farm, & sometimes seems rather kind.

Fates are stirring when Sam (Adam Taylor Gordon) & his dad David (Brian Wimmer) are in a car crash near Ben's farm. With thin rationales, they end up living with the old man, Sam enrolled in the local school while dad is paid to do chores for Ben. Ben begins tempting dad to fall off the wagon & carous with local vixens. Soon David is completely neglecting his kid, is drunk or whoring most of the time, & becomes angry whenever Sam tries to convince his dad that Ben is literally the devil.

Ben & Sam have begun playing a literal game of chess which has repurcussions in the real world. When Ben's knight pushes aside one of Sam's pawns, one of his playmates is stomped to death in the barn. The killed child had been something of a bully, & in being tempted by a promise of revenge, Sam has been weakened & his father's soul consequently at increased peril. But if Sam can turn the chess game to his favor, the devil can be weakened.

Obviously Sam is not an ordinary kid, having previously been hospitalized because he frequently falls into an hallucinogenic frame of mind experiencing visions of an eerie or divine realm. Sam's doctor (Claudia Christian) had counseled David to "believe" in his son's visions & promised Sam would someday grow out of them.

She (Sam's doctor) later tracks down Sam at the devil's farm. She has an angelic veneer in contrast to Ben's demonic attitude. When she tries to get the boy away from the farm, Ben whacks her with an axe, takes her to the hayloft, & sews her mouth closed so that even in death, God can't hear her scream.

But how much of what Sam observes is real & how much the result of his visions? Often the next morning there is no evidence of what Sam is certain he has seen or experienced.

When Ben finds Sam's drawings of the hallucinatory world he has for some months been seeing in his dreams, he begins to believe his chess game is with God. He will eventually admit it was his own vanity that caused him to make this error, but it does seem possible that Sam is an incarnation of the archangel Michael, sent to this place & time to do battle with the devil, either to bring about or forstall armegaddon.

Sam's new school teacher is Grace (Sean Young), Ben's foster daughter. She seems actually to be an angelic power, but having been orphaned & raised by the devil loves him & is polluted by him, & so does his bidding. She has authority over the fiery sword which must be removed from Ben's orchard if he is to lead David to the forbidden fruit. Grace dies in a rather effective scene of extinguishing the sword.

But there's a judaic teaching that Lilith is only the dark face of the Matrona or Bride of God, & even if she performs an evil act, it is ultimately for a good effect, since at her core she is divine light. And having extingished the sword making the Tree of Life accessible to Sam's father, she has at the same time made it possible for young Sam to wield the sword as his personal weapon.

The devil is surprisingly honest with David, admitting to being the devil who needs David to willingly eat of the tree of life. When the final battle arrives, it is young Sam who with God's fiery sword defends the Trees of Life & Death, & of Knowledge of Good & Evil, assisted by the Four Horsemen, striving to save David from the doomful temptation.

On any literalist level, The Garden is never completely logical, yet the script bamboozles its way along quite convincingly, in great part because of the perfect casting. It all seems plausible even if not entirely explicable that all this that is happening on a little form is by some means a battle for the fate of the world.

Any film about how God is good & the Devil's no good is apt to come off, on some level, like it was concocted for the Christian television network. And Ben was so obviously the devil from the start that I still think it would've been a more intellectually interesting horror film if "the obvious" had turned out not to be true, that Ben was in fact a warrior of God. It might at least have had a touch of irony about it all.

But no, this is not a film with many grey areas; it expresses itself in straightforward Good vs Evil terms, & Ben represents evil. The only reason there is any depth to this simplistic view is because Lance Henrickson is contitutionally incapable of a shallow performance, & plays Ben not just as perfect evil, but regretful perfect evil.

The level of acting is so high & the film's unfolding so elegant & mysterious, that even if a little sermony in its religiosity, & occasionally edging into goofiness with the medieval horsemen of the apocolypse galloping around to small effect, The Garden is ultimately pretty good, certainly not the same old thing for a horror film.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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