August 8, 2006
The Garden (2005) introduces us to Sam (Gordon), a hyper-sensitive young boy who suffers from visions and cuts himself in order to control these hallucinations. His father David (Wimmer) is a recovering alcoholic six months sober and recently divorced. Sam has just been released from a mental hospital and David picks him up to take him to his mother in Oregon. En route, they get into a car accident and are taken in by a mysterious man, Ben Zachary (Henriksen), and stay on his ranch.
To make matters worse, their ranch at home is under quarantine (how convenient) and so they take Ben’s offer to stay on a little while. Obviously, there is more to him than meets the eye and this is evident 30 minutes in when he kills Sam’s doctor (Christian) who makes the fatal mistake of paying the boy a house call. Sam is witness to Ben’s malevolent ways but is it really happening or is he merely dreaming it like he did in the hospital? And, more importantly, do we care?
Ben lives a monastic existence: no television, no computers, no phone, but he does collect and read comic books (Spider-Man is his fave) and plays chess, engaging Sam in a few matches. Ben seems a little odd but Henriksen instills him with an old school charisma that is engaging. Ben is friendly enough but he seems to be encouraging David’s worst habits, constantly tempting him while setting his sights on Sam. David certainly isn’t going to win any Father-of-the-Year awards. After the terrible accident, he doesn’t take Sam to get him checked out at a hospital. He later leaves Sam with the creepy Ben to go out with some local skanky women for a night on the town. And, after his son is tormented by a bully, he tells him to toughen up instead of being supportive and sympathetic.
The musical cues are heavy-handed and obvious. Director Don Michael Paul wants to be David Lynch but is closer to the bombast of Michael Bay, complete with a loud heartbeat pounding repeatedly on the soundtrack during certain dramatic moments. The direction is rather pedestrian in nature while the screenplay by Sam Bozzo is weakly plotted with jumps in logic that take you out of the movie and could have easily been fixed during the screenwriting phase. The Biblical symbolism is heavy-handed as The Garden clumsily evokes The Night of the Hunter (1955) at times. Also, the attempts to mix myth and reality are awkward at best and handled much better in films like The Fisher King (1991) and The Mighty (1998) amongst others. With the exception of Ben, none of the other characters are all that interesting. They are poorly written and we never become emotionally invested in any of them. Henriksen is a wonderful character actor but he’s wasted in this unremarkable movie.
There is an audio commentary by director Don Michael Paul. He praises Claudia Christian for coming in with no notice and doing the small role for him. They shot the movie in a quick 19 days. He claims the film is original in its subject matter and was attracted to the father-son dynamic. He touches upon the challenge of shooting with a child actor as the lead for only six hours a day because of child labour laws on a small budget and a short schedule. Paul claims to be a fan of Lance Henriksen since Stone Cold (1991) and Millennium?! What about his earlier work? Dog Day Afternoon (1975)? Aliens (1986)? Near Dark (1987)? Comments like that speak volumes on why this film doesn’t work.
“The Garden: Behind-the-Scenes” features footage of Paul working on the set with his actors. We see a few scenes being partially filmed while most of the footage is scored to music from the soundtrack.
Also included is a trailer, a still gallery with promotional pictures and an excellently written biography of Henriksen (maybe Paul should read it?).