Gardens of the Night
|Gardens of the Night|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Damian Harris|
|Written by||Damian Harris|
Jermaine "Scooter" Smith
|Music by||Craig Richey|
|Edited by||Michal Shemesh|
|Distributed by||City Lights Pictures
At the age of eight, a girl named Leslie Whitehead (Ryan Simpkins) is kidnapped by Alex (Tom Arnold) and Frank (Kevin Zegers). Alex says he needs help finding his dog, then he and Frank take her to school. While driving, Alex tells Leslie her dad is their boss, thus earning her trust. After school, Alex and Frank find her again. They lure her into their car with a story about her dad being in trouble, drug her and take her to their house. Alex tells Leslie her parents do not want her anymore. As proof, he provides the number to her "dad's cell phone," which, in reality, is a pay phone. After several unanswered calls, she eventually accepts his story.
She and another victim, a young boy named Donnie, are forced into prostitution and pornography. Their clients include men in positions of authority, such as a judge. As a coping mechanism, Donnie and Leslie pretend they are in an imaginary world based on the stories of Mowgli and The Jungle Book. One day, Leslie goes to a convenience store, where it becomes apparent her parents are looking for her because her picture is on milk cartons. However, Leslie doesn't see the cartons, thus preserving her notion that her parents don't want her. While Alex is paying for ice cream, the store owner's wife recognizes her as missing and calls the police. When the police show up at Alex and Frank's house, they hastily escape with the children.
About ten years later, Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) and Donnie (Evan Ross) are living together on the streets, prostituting themselves and stealing. As a way for her to be "independent" and get off the streets, a pimp named Cooper (Shiloh Fernandez) tries to convince Leslie to lure a twelve-year-old girl, Monica (Carlie Westerman), living at a shelter into prostitution. Meanwhile, Donnie has fallen in love with Leslie, and she doesn't know what to do with this, since, presumably, she's always just seen him as her brother. Donnie also wants to get out of prostitution, but Leslie is conflicted, since Cooper promised her life would improve if she continued prostituting with him and left Donnie. She does end up deciding to leave Donnie, and she goes to the shelter to "turn-out" the girl. When Donnie goes looking for Leslie, Cooper tells him she's left him, devastating Donnie. At the last minute, Leslie decides to not turn Monica and returns her to the shelter. She decides to go back to Donnie, but finds out he has left town without saying where he was going. Having no other choice, Leslie goes back to the shelter to stay. A counselor there (John Malkovich) discovers Leslie is a missing person and tells her her parents have been looking for her all these years, which she finally realizes is true.
Leslie reunites with her parents, along with two siblings born during her absence, and attempts to "return home." However, she is too traumatized after all she's been through and cannot remain in such a normal atmosphere. She leaves in the middle of the night and starts to hitchhike, hoping to find Donnie again. Donnie is shown hitchhiking through Florida, the location of an amusement park where he and Leslie, as children, said they would meet if they ever got separated.
- Gillian Jacobs as Leslie
- Ryan Simpkins as Young Leslie
- Tom Arnold as Alex
- Evan Ross as Donnie
- Jermaine "Scooter" Smith as Young Donnie
- John Malkovich as Michael
- Kevin Zegers as Frank
- Michelle Rodriguez as Lucy
- Jeremy Sisto as Jimmy
- Peta Wilson as Sarah
- Shiloh Fernandez as Cooper
- Harold Perrineau as Orlando
- Troy Rubtash as Motel John
- Raynold Gideon as Judge Feeney
- Cornelia Guest as Mrs. Feeney
- Natalie May as Judge's Daughter
- Ben Lin as Pa
- Alice Lo as Ma
- Landall Goolsby as Blackberry John
- Shontea Saldana as Baby Loco
- Max Van Ville as Surf
- Kyle Gallner as Rat Boy
- Angel Lacy as Waitress
- Evan Peters as Rachel/Brian
- Carlie Westman as Monica
- Jeff Swarthout as Gay John
- Jeff Feringa as Booster Lady
- Jim Cody Williams as Leslie's John
- Alexis Jackson as Mia
- Raphael Sbarge as Mr. Whitehead
- Lisa Akey as Mrs. Whitehead
- Gracie Sbarge as Gracie Whitehead
- Ty Simpkins as Dylan Whitehead
The film was then released in the UK and France in October 2008, and in November 2008 was given limited release in New York City. It has never had a nationwide release in the United States.
A review in The New York Times states, "Recovery time is recommended after seeing Gardens of the Night, a harrowing, obliquely told story of kidnapping and forced child prostitution that conjures a world entirely populated by predators and prey."
A review in the New York Observer calls the film "another newfangled kind of horror movie", going on to say, "It is hard to watch, but worth every sobering moment because of the things you learn about one of life’s most grueling subjects."
Gardens of the Night won the International Critics Jury award at the 2008 Deauville Festival of American Film. It also won the "Coup de Coeur" of the International Competition and the CinéFemme Award at the Mons (Belgium) International Love Film Festival.
The film won the 2008 Audience Award at the Lyon Film festival (Lyfe/ Hors-Ecran).
Prism Awards: Nominated as Best Feature Film (Mental Health).
- "2008 Program". Berlin International Film Festival.
- "Awards for Gardens of the Night". IMDB.
- "Gardens of the Night". Rotten Tomatoes.
- Stephen Holden (2008-11-07). "Predators and Young Prey in a World Gone Sinister". New York Times.
- Rex Reed (2008-11-04). "Mean Streets". The New York Observer.
- Ian Mundell (2008-09-14). "Deauville greets 'Visitor' with honors". Variety.
- Lyon Film festival (Lyfe/ Hors-Ecran).