Is it worse to be totally alone, or not quite completely alone - but unsafe? It's an interesting question when you consider the dangers of both scenarios. Complete solitude is dangerous for the mind, more-so if you think you are the last person left alive. But being not quite alone means that whoever is left, has no reason not to do as they like with you, save a moral code that could very easily vanish if no consequences exist. It's this type of world Shaun Wilson's "Black Garden" takes place. A world that is not quite empty but also not quite right. A place where people hear voices from strange objects, and can be guided along by a voice in a radio with no power. As interesting as this all sounds, Wilson's film ain't no "Mad Max" movie and will definitely not be for everyone.
"Black Garden" takes place shortly after world war three and what's left, in Australia anyhow, is indeed the stuff of nightmares. Shaun Wilson's film is not a gore-fest however, and much is left to the imagination including the war itself. There is a small hint that Donald Trump was responsible for these end times - presented in an off-hand remark about "the wall" but for the most part, things are left ambiguous. For me? There's absolutely nothing wrong with that in my books. More for the imagination to think up the worst possible scenario right? You bet.
In the film, our leading lady Kate has decided to leave the relative safety of her home, in no small part thanks to a voice being broadcast over a radio with no power. Save a conversation of sorts about halfway through the movie, and perhaps a little at the end, "Black Garden" is very light on dialog save the voice of the radio, and heavy on scenery. For real - most of this film is about the journey. Kate's story involves a lot of walking and to say it's a beautiful trip would be an outright lie. Interesting at times? Sure - but nice and majestic? Not a chance. But that's the point reader - "Black Garden" is about loneliness and isolation. End times, coping, and saying farewell to your own existence. How does it all end? Well now - I'm not going to spoil that now am I? I will say this though, "Black Garden" ain't no fairy tale - and either is the ending.
For me, the biggest problem with this film is that it's not presented for the casual viewer. It's an art-house, experimental production that in my opinion, was not meant to be for the casual Joe Blow taking in a film. It's introspective and gritty, and I have no doubt Shaun Wilson made it this way on purpose. It's created for a certain type of viewer, and only those its been created for will truly appreciate it. It's the very definition of indie film. With that said, the choice of black and white didn't do much in my books. I imagine the choice was made to further demonstrate isolation - instead it just kept things bland against a bland and bleak backdrop.
The other major thing I keep coming back to is the length of the film. It's around an hour and a half and although that doesn't seem all that long for a movie of today, when you consider "Black Garden" is made up of a lot of walking, that ninety-minute run time felt like it almost doubled. This exact same film could have been done in around forty-five - fifty minutes with some cutting to the never-ending walking shots. Same story, less walking. With that written, I again should remind anyone reading this that the person that will really enjoy this film - may also enjoy the extra scenery. The design of the movie does make the extra shots make sense as it builds in atmosphere. It all comes down to what type of viewer you are.
At the end of the day? There's a lot of movie here for those who like to take things in, and really give some thought to what they're seeing. The casual viewer probably won't make it halfway through but in the end, it's their loss. If you're looking for a slower-paced film, that is as bleak and gritty as it is a conversation starter, this movie is for you. For those looking for lightning-quick pacing and supersonic editing, this probably won't be your cup of tea. Three out of five stars.