Gardens of the Night

Genre: Action | Drama
Running Time: 110 min.
Release Date: 21 November 2008 (USA)
Director: Damian Harris
Screenplay: Damian Harris
Cast: Gillian Jacobs, John Malkovich, Ryan Simpkins, …


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.