Gardens of the Night


The title is the first sign that the audience is in for it. The second is a child’s voice reading from The Jungle Book, and the third is the voice of a counselor (John Malkovich) comforting the pretty young thing sitting before him. From there, we are treated to a dubiously long “Stranger Danger” sketch that pushes way beyond the limits of taste and reason: All dripping faucets, dulcet piano tinkling, blinking lightbulbs, fairy-tale allusions, and Tom Arnold whispering sweet nothings, Gardens of the Night poeticizes the horror of young Leslie (Ryan Simpkins) being kidnapped and passed around like a rag doll, along with her surrogate brother Donnie (Jermaine Smith), in a not-so-surreptitious child pornography ring that includes creeps played by B-listers Harold Perrineau and Jeremy Sisto. Pitched at the risible level of Marco Kreuzpaintner’s Trade, the film never quite recovers from writer-director Damian Harris’s dithering way of shooting things. Back in the present, the subject is the way the abused become abusers, and how the bond between the older Leslie (Gillian Jacobs) and Donnie (Evan Ross) is tested on the streets—but after being built on such a shoddy foundation, their current-day reality registers only as an afterthought.