'The Creeping Garden': Fantasia Review

The Creeping Garden Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Fantasia Festival

The Creeping Garden Still - H 2014

A stylish and quirky nature doc with unexpected appeal.

Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp explore a sci-fi-like corner of the natural world

An out-of-left-field nerdy delight, Tim Grabham's and Jasper Sharp's The Creeping Garden hones in on a peculiar, obscure life form and follows it not just through the usual naturalist format, but into the realms of science and art. Centered on slime molds, a form of life we're told doesn't fit neatly into either the animal or the plant kingdom, the hypnotic film may be too obscure for a broad art house run. But like its subjects, which grow beneath our feet in the undergrowth of forests, it should thrive in special engagements and at festivals whose attendees seek things most moviegoers wouldn't think to look at.

The doc's most obvious draw is its plentiful time-lapse macro photography, which allows us to see that while these slime molds resemble varieties of fungus, they actually move around in search of food. We meet scientists and science artists who are obsessed with that movement, putting the molds in mazes and seeing what paths they take toward clumps of oats. Others tour us through woods and research archives, showing the wide range of shapes and colors slime molds can take. (At least 1,000 species have been identified.) Many look a lot like something from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, making the doc's presence at a sci-fi-leaning festival easy to understand.

Not content to be an icky-fascinating naturalist film, Garden quickly takes us into far corners of computing science and the arts, where we meet researchers who use a human-like robot head to visualize a mold's health; hear music generated by their activities; and see how their growth patterns can be used to predict the growth of roadways between a nation's major cities. (The audio experiments are echoed in the film's highly appropriate score, where barely audible squeaking, skittering sounds underlie everything.)

The most charming detour, though, is one in which the filmmakers celebrate their forebears — amateur naturalists like London's Percy Smith, who in the early days of cinema explored methods of slowing down and speeding up time on screen. Here's hoping a DVD release will include a bonus chapter featuring Smith's 1931 Magic Mixies, which looked at slime molds decades before the general public had ever heard of them.


Production company: Cinema Iloobia

Directors-producers: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp

Directors of photography: Ben Ellsworth, Tim Grabham, Clare Richards

Editor: Tim Grabham

Music: Jim O'Rourke, Woob


No rating, 80 minutes