Gardens of the Night

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Gardens of the Night
Gardens of the Night.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Damian Harris
Produced by Station3
Written by Damian Harris
Starring Gillian Jacobs
John Malkovich
Ryan Simpkins
Tom Arnold
Jermaine "Scooter" Smith
Peta Wilson
Kevin Zegers
Music by Craig Richey
Cinematography Paula Huidobro
Edited by Michal Shemesh
Distributed by City Lights Pictures
Sobini Films
VVS Films
Release date
  • February 9, 2008 (2008-02-09) (Germany)
  • October 2, 2008 (2008-10-02) (United Kingdom)
  • November 21, 2008 (2008-11-21) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $11,436[1]

Gardens of the Night is a 2008 drama film, starring Gillian Jacobs, John Malkovich, Ryan Simpkins and Tom Arnold; and directed and written by Damian Harris.


In Pennsylvania, 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.

Almost nine years later, Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) and Donnie (Evan Ross) are living together on the streets of San Diego, 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, living at a youth shelter into prostitution. Meanwhile, Donnie has fallen in love with Leslie, but she's unsure because, presumably, she's always just seen him as her brother. She ends up deciding to leave Donnie and goes to the shelter to "turn out" the girl. When Donnie goes looking for Leslie, Cooper tells him she's left him, devastating him. At the last minute, Leslie decides not to turn out Monica and returns her to the shelter. She tries 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.




The film was first screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2008, where it was nominated for, but did not win the Golden Bear Award.[2][3]

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.


The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 54%. With 13 reviews counted, seven are "Fresh", or positive, and six are "Rotten" or negative.[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]

Tom Arnold's performance was praised by many critics including Leslie Felperin of Variety who said "Tom Arnold steals the show".[7]


Gardens of the Night won the International Critics Jury award at the 2008 Deauville Festival of American Film.[8] 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).[9]

Prism Awards: Nominated as Best Feature Film (Mental Health).


  1. ^
  2. ^ "2008 Program". Berlin International Film Festival. 
  3. ^ "Awards for Gardens of the Night". IMDB. 
  4. ^ "Gardens of the Night". Rotten Tomatoes. 
  5. ^ Stephen Holden (2008-11-07). "Predators and Young Prey in a World Gone Sinister". New York Times. 
  6. ^ Rex Reed (2008-11-04). "Mean Streets". The New York Observer. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Ian Mundell (2008-09-14). "Deauville greets 'Visitor' with honors". Variety. 
  9. ^ Lyon Film festival (Lyfe/ Hors-Ecran).

External links[edit]