Innocence Stolen Is Theme of Child Abduction Drama
Donnie (Evan Ross) doesn’t exactly remember how he ended up in the clutches of Alex (Tom Arnold), but he thinks his mentally-unstable mother might have sold him to the middle-aged child molester. Leslie (Gillian Jacobs), on the other hand, was eight years-old when the same sicko abducted her with the help of a teen accomplice (Kevin Zegers).
For the past nine years, Donnie and Leslie have been simultaneously imprisoned and left traumatized by the unspeakable sexual abuse they’ve been subjected to by this pair of perverts. Over that span, the kids have held onto their sanity only by leaning on each other’s shoulders and by exchanging promises to always be there for each other. In fact, they’ve grown so close, they now think of themselves as brother and sister, even though she’s white and he’s black.
Actually, of far more significance than their shades of skin tones is the bond which they developed while sharing a small bedroom, There, they created a fantasy world into which they could escape the never-ending nightmare. Then, at 17, Donnie and Leslie find themselves suddenly free but lacking the wherewithal to function normally. In order to survive, they turn to the only thing they know, namely, sex, so they end up prostitutes on the streets of San Diego.
So unfolds Gardens of the Night, a meticulously-researched loss of innocence drama written and directed by Damian Harris. Harris started work on the project way back in 1980, after being moved by the photo of a missing girl on a milk carton and reading a Newsweek cover story about stolen children. But it took him 10 years to write the first draft of his sobering script, this after speaking with parents and counselors of young kidnap victims, and with police officers assigned to the child sex crimes unit.
The upshot is a haunting tale which very convincingly conveys the overwhelming sense of helplessness and dread which undoubtedly afflicts impressionable souls unfortunate enough to be so exploited while still in the bloom of youth. Kudos to Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross for their powerful lead performances and to Tom Arnold and John Malkovich for equally-effective outings in support roles.
A profoundly disturbing, super-realistic examination of pedophilia not to be screened on an empty stomach, nor forgotten during awards season..
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 110 minutes
Studio: City Lights Media Group