Spain’s Augusti Villaronga followed up his fearsome masterpiece IN A GLASS CAGE with this highly ambitious mystical fantasy. The film has many shortcomings, but its nightmarish aura is quite arresting.
MOONCHILD (EL NINO DE LA LUNA; 1989) is best known for its score by Dead Can Dance (whose headliner Lisa Gerrard also performs in the film), who for whatever reason have never released the music on CD. The movie itself isn’t much more accessible, having been released on VHS in the U.S. back in the mid-1990s. It has yet to receive a proper DVD release (with the 2009 Award Films International DVD copied from the VHS transfer) and remains Augusti Villaronga’s most obscure film.
In an unidentified locale and time period that appears to be Spain in the 1920s or 30s, the young orphan David is being kept in a heavily fortified compound run by a shadowy occult organization. He’s one of several children from around the world who’ve been recruited by the organization due to the fact that all evince telepathic abilities, which the organization’s overseers plan to exploit in order to birth the “Son of the Moon,” a godlike being prophesized by an African tribe.
David experiences bizarre visions and feels himself inexplicably drawn to the light of the moon. He actually comes to believe he’s the Son of the Moon, but his guardians feel otherwise. They set up a young blond woman named Lisa to be impregnated with the desired child, in a bizarre nocturnal coupling that takes place on a moonlit platform.
David decides to flee the compound together with Lisa and her boyfriend. David is aided in his flight by his sympathetic guardian Victoria, who increasingly finds herself believing David’s claims about his divine heritage. After tangling with agents of the organization, during which Lisa’s BF is captured and taken back to compound, David and Lisa manage to stow away on a cargo ship to Africa.
Once in Africa David and Lisa join a procession that takes them to the whereabouts of the tribe who worship the Son of the Moon. Victoria is hot on their trail, commandeering a bi-plane to the tribe’s locale together with some organization lackeys. Acting against the wishes of her superiors, Victoria helps David make a final, fateful escape.
As with most of Augusti Villaronga’s other films, MOONCHILD is stunningly crafted and visualized. From a purely visual standpoint, in fact, it’s a masterpiece, with a nightmarish beauty that would make David Lynch proud and some ingeniously modulated Hitchockian suspense sequences. Equally impressive is the highly percussive Dead Can Dance score, which ranks among the most eerie and haunting of the decade. There are also some fine performances, with seventies hottie Maribel Martin (of THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, THE BLOOD-SPATTERED BRIDE and A BELL FROM HELL) being the surprise standout in a strikingly layered and emotional portrayal, while IN A GLASS CAGE’S headliners Gunter Meisner and David Sust prove quite memorable in supporting roles.
Where Augusti Villaronga goes wrong is in his script. Like many modern writer-directors, Villaronga appears to have vastly overestimated his screenwriting abilities, as is evident in the consistently implausible and underbaked narrative. Among other fumbles, the proceedings over-rely on coincidence and happenstance, with David always seeming to fortuitously wind up in the right place at the right time (such as the abovementioned moonlit coupling, which David just happens to be on hand to witness); it’s amazing, in fact, that David is able to do so much surreptitious creeping around in the heavily fortified Orwellian compound where he’s interred for most of the film’s opening half. Such missteps don’t render this powerfully strange and evocative fantasy any less striking, but they do prevent it from reaching its full potential.
MOONCHILD (EL NINO DE LA LUNA)
Ganesh Produccion Cinematograficas
Director: Augusti Villaronga
Producers: Selma Baccar, Moustapha Benjemia, Adolfo Cora, Jamie Fernandez-Cid, Chattab Garbi, Julian Mateos, Francisco Villar
Screenplay: Augusti Villaronga
Cinematography: Jaume Peracaula
Editing: Raul Roman
Cast: Maribel Martin, Lisa Gerrard, Lucia Bose, Enrique Saldana, David Sust, Mary Carrillo, Gunter Meisner, Heidi Ben Amar, Lydia Azzopardi, Jack Birkett, Lluis Homar