For an austere documentary about a relatively harmless natural phenomena, The Creeping Garden takes on a darkly, if ironically, ominous tone. Directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp focus on the mysterious slime mold, an organism that continues to baffle professional and amateur scientists alike due to its complex cellular structure and behavior: They’re single-celled, but bond together and move as a single body in search of food.
Because of the mold’s almost otherworldly qualities, the film understandably adopts the aura of an atmospheric sci-fi flick, specifically through intricate sonic textures and cinematic lighting and compositions. This stylistic formalism elevates The Creeping Garden above a conventional nature doc, but it sporadically has a stultifying effect over some of the material as the filmmakers earnestly outline their enigmatic subject.
The film occasionally moves at a glacial pace, though Grabham and Sharp liven things up with interviewees who go to eccentric lengths to tap into the mold’s potential. Via a computer, composer Eduardo Reck Miranda captures the odd, sonorous noises of the slime mold’s “emotional” responses when the light-sensitive substance is introduced to electrodes, while scientist Ella Gale similarly uses electricity-triggered mold responses to eerily control the facial expressions of a robot, which is the first to effectively utilize living organisms.
But The Creeping Garden becomes needlessly gloomy whenever the filmmakers aren’t exploring slime mold’s role in scientific progress, such as the handful of sequences featuring amateur scientist Mark Pragnell searching a forest for the organism. Pragnell merely discusses personal thoughts and anecdotes on his obsession, yet the severe tenor of these moments makes it feel as if this modest hobbyist is a fateful innovator on par with Miranda and Gale. That said, while at times uneven, Grabham and Sharp’s tone nevertheless creates something unique for both a genre exercise and a documentary: a science-fiction film that doesn’t contain an ounce of fiction.