Gardens of the Night (2008)
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as Leslie at 17
as Donnie at 17
as Leslie at 7
as Young Donnie
Critic Reviews for Gardens of the Night
Do these heartbreaking stories exist in the real world? Yes, yes, they do. Does dramatizing these stories with nothing to add except a certain cruel wallowing in the existence of unspeakable human depravity serve any real purpose? No, no, it does not.
Writer-director Jared Harris (and actor and son of the late Richard Harris) claims to have spent 10 years researching this sordid milieu, yet, for all the detail, it ends up playing like an especially lurid '80s TV movie.
Gardens of the Night is a harrowing story of kidnapping and forced child prostitution that conjures a world entirely populated by predators and prey.
Good acting and sincere direction by Damian Harris act as beacons to light the haunting corridors of an underworld spook house.
The film never quite recovers from writer-director Damian Harris's dithering way of shooting things.
Audience Reviews for Gardens of the Night
The film certainly means well to shine a spotlight on a very real and heartbreaking issue, but this is really a glorified Lifetime movie disguised as an independent film. Damian Harris claims to have spent 10 years doing research for this film. I'm certainly not doubting that at all, but what I am saying is that he didn't find a way to successfully implement his research into an emotionally engaging story. That might sound a little cold, but it's the truth. I found the film to be quite the chore that just dragged and dragged and dragged. It doesn't help that the film is really heavily dramatized in order to manipulate your emotions. The story would be heartbreaking enough without the film CLEARLY manipulating you in order to get the response they desire. That's what gives it that TV film quality. There's some good parts to the film, like Leslie's and Donnie's relationship and how they've grown to depend on each other in the face of horrific consequences. And how that sort of develops into an "attraction" when they're both much older. The problem is that, while Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross are both individually good, though Evan has one really bad scene, they don't really have much chemistry with each other and the film is just TRYING so hard to tell this story of these two, who wouldn't have even met if it wasn't due to the fact they were both kidnapped as children and forced into prostitution, and how they're meant to be together forever to look after each other. It was a good idea but the chemistry between Evan and Gillian was definitely lacking and that really hurt what the film was trying to do. Good idea, but the leads just don't have any chemistry. It's clear they were just paid to pretend to like each other and I mean they ARE actors, so that's what they're hired to do. But in many movies, the chemistry between the leads is such that it doesn't FEEL like they're pretending, it just feels like an extension of their real-life relationship, or even friendship. Movies like This Is The End work because it's clear that everyone involved in the cast is friends with each other and that translates on-screen and it makes the film that much more fun. Not that this film was ever meant to be fun, but the point is that you can see through the facade, you can tell that Evan and Gillian probably, while maybe they didn't dislike each other, had very little in common with each other and didn't hang out together unless it was strictly for the benefits of the film. You can see through it immediately and that's a very big problem with the film. On top of the fact that it tells you the TV movie version of the story rather than the real one. Like I said, there's some good moments and the acting is more than solid, but the film's story and its pacing really leaves a lot to be desired. I say this a lot, but the worst thing a film can be is a chore to sit through, because if I had stopped the film halfway through, it wouldn't have bothered me if I never finished it. That's a problem, so the film, in my view, missed the mark on its subject matter by a monumental margin. Wouldn't really recommend this film at all.
Gardens of the Night follows an 8 year old upper-middle class girl, Leslie (Ryan Simpkin), who was abducted by two Pedophiles, Alex (Tom Arnold) and Frank (Kevin Zegers). After being coerced to getting in Alex's car, her whole childhood life turned out to be a living hell, alongside with Donnie (Jermaine Scooter Smith), who believed that his parents sold him to Alex for drugs. They create a connection with each other later on in the movie and promised to be together forever. Now that they are teenagers (played by Gillian Jacobs and Evan Ross), they moved to San Diego together, homeless, leading to drugs and prostitution. Based on what was shown here, Gardens of the Night is a depressing but good movie that will make parents wanting to take care of their kids and look out for them. I didn't want to see it on Netflix at first because the summary felt depressing to read, and I didn't want to waste my time feeling sad. I'm an opened person, so I was like "what the heck. I should give it a chance." Glad I did. There are many kids out there who goes through messed up situation like this. It wasn't a perfect film, but this will hopefuly get prevent kids from not having a messed up life like those two main characters. No matter if it's a wealthy or a dangerous area, there are sickos everywhere we go. The storyline started out ambiguously. It showed how she was abducted from her parents, and it showed Alex and Frank's motives. Some of the scenes are uncomfortable to look at because they can make you feel tense and self-conscious, but that depends on what type of person you are. Some of the scenes also find yourself feeling a little bit happy, whenever Leslie and Donnie interact with each other. You can really tell they have a strong bond together, especially when Donnie is attracted to her. The problem about this movie was that it left out a few questions to be answered, such as the part where it cuts from the part where Leslie and Donnie were sleeping as kids to where they slept at a beach in San Diego as teenagers. I was puzzled by that because I didn't know what happened before they moved in San Diego without having a house of their own, or what happened to Alex and Frank. It really messed up the movie for me. The ending was another problem I had as well. It left me open for more to come, and I didn't know what to feel. Either happy or sad. Maybe it was trying to lead itself somewhere, but it wanted us to figure out ourselves on what happened next after it cuts to the credits. The cast, although there are no stand outs, did a good job here. Tom Arnold departed from his usual comedic roles and did something new for a change. He played his character pretty well. Kevin Zegers came a long way throughout his career, and I didn't expect him to do a role like this. He wasn't too bad here, and I'm wondering why he hasn't been in any blockbuster movies, lately. It doesn't matter, anyway. Evan Ross and Gillian Jacobs had a good chemistry together on screen. They played their part pretty well. Other cast delivered a decent performance that will be admired by everyone in the future. Gardens of the Night is an independent film that is a refreshment from the junk Hollywood is putting out. There are mixed reactions by critics and audiences alike, but I thought it was well-made but not perfect. So it's a both direction for me. I enjoyed it, but there are few things that were missing. It would have been a perfect movie if they did a little better with the story. This deals with Abduction and making the right decisions for yourself, and I hope people will learn something from this movie. It's not flawless, but it's worth looking at, if you're a parent or someone who loves kids so much, that you would do anything to prevent them from taking the wrong path.
Abducted by two pedophiles at the age of 8, Leslie is led into a life of prostitution, drug addiction and self destruction. If you have children, and even if you don't, this is a hard watch. Gardens of the Night is a good film about some very, very bad stuff.
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