Gardens of the Night (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
“Gardens of the Night” was about a little girl (Ryan Simpkins) who was kidnapped by an older man (Tom Arnold) and a younger guy (Kevin Zegers) on her way from school. In the hands of the sick duo who was running an underground business involving sex and children, the little girl met a boy (Jermaine Scooter Smith) who became her friend for life. Years later, the little girl along with the little boy (now by played by Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross, respectively) grew up in the streets stealing, doing drugs and prostituting themselves. In a shelter, Jacobs was adviced by a counselor (John Malkovich) to seek her parents. “Gardens of the Night” started off well because the whole experience involving the two guys’ insidious methods of kidnapping a child was so visceral, it almost felt wrong that I was watching the event unfold. I really felt like I was in the car with the kidnappers and in the room with the kids; no matter how much I wanted to help the children escape, there was nothing I could do about it. But when the focus shifted to the whole prostitution and living in squalor angle, it wasn’t as powerful because I didn’t feel like the main character wanted to make her life better. I felt like she had a defeatist attitude despite her longtime friend (who’s in the same situation as her) offering alternative ways of leading their lives. And since I didn’t feel that strength inside of her, I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I was in the beginning. Although the film tried to tackle the issue of redemption with another girl that was about to sell her body for sex, it was so one-dimensional and I could see how it woulld turn out right from the moment that specific character was introduced. I did like, however, the scenes when Jacobs finally decided to see her parents again. However, her reaction to the whole thing angered me because I felt like she had this sense of entitlement–that nobody was supposed to move on despite her absence. I get that the movie was trying to comment on the connection between a child and her parents being no longer there but with such a dark material, the way it unfolded felt heavy-handed instead of natural. It’s as if Damian Harris, the writer and director, did not want anybody to experience a happiness that the lead character so rightfully deserved. “Gardens of the Night” certainly had potential but the second half could have used a little bit more work in terms of pacing and staying true to that poor little girl who was picked up by two strangers on her way home.