Cara Culligan, Shaun Wilson, Garry Keltie
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Utilising the Dogme 95 Manifesto as a springboard into the apocalypse, director Shaun Wilson has constructed a raw exploration into isolation and acceptance of the end we will all have to face. That sentence alone will have already turned you onto whether Black Garden is for you.
Set in the near future, around 8 days after World War 3, Australia is a cold and almost empty landscape. Its suburbs reverberate with the sound of sirens and groups of men and women being executed by masked people in boilersuits. As we’re brought up to speed, Wilson introduces us to several people around the world; each receiving a radio signal through a bog-standard household item. For one, it’s a gaudy Rudolph decoration. Another, a slipper. For Kate (Cara Culligan), our audience surrogate in this apocalyptic nightmare, it’s an unplugged radio.
The voice encourages Kate to leave her home, where she’s been counting down her last days. In doing so, she sets off on a journey to track down the man behind the broadcast, but maybe, also, some smattering of hope.
Based on the 9th circle of Hell from Dante’s Inferno, Kate’s journey is a troublesome one, which is bolstered by the haunting monochrome cinematography that keeps Black Garden from truly embracing its audience. This makes the film a tough watch as we witness Kate trying to use her last time on earth searching for something better. Kate is an observer, and her lonesome journey is briefly punctuated when she crosses paths with those who appear worse off than her. Except for perhaps Harry (Wilson himself), who is jovial and, along with his housemates that only he can see and hear, appears to have Kate’s best interests at heart.
Kate’s time with Harry is perhaps the more traditional part of Black Garden, narratively speaking. Wilson ensures we’re on the back foot with this smiling bearded man from the minute he invites her into his home. He creates something uncomfortable to watch as the two discuss the state of the world, and never reassuring us that something much worse isn’t about to happen in their microcosm.
After much ado about Harry, Black Garden begins to drift further away from the narrative norm, and it can be challenging to take it all in as Kate’s world becomes more suffocating. And perhaps, that’s the point. Kate and others unseen have reached the point of undeniability: things are not going to get much better. The film seems to always remind us that eventually, we all die alone. Not a cheery thought, but then, Wilson doesn’t appear to have set out to make a film that will garner repeats on tv during the Christmas season. The film is asking us to think about how far we’d push ourselves when all hope is lost.
As mentioned up top, you’ll likely have already made up your mind whether Black Garden is for you and that’s perhaps fair enough. This is more art exhibition than a film. And if that’s your sort of thing, it’ll give you a chance to dive in and wrangle meaning out of it once you come up for air.
Find out more here: https://www.blackgardenmovie.com/