When eight year old Leslie is kidnapped by her fatherÂ’s employees under a ruse of taking her to meet her parents, it is uncertain what the captorsÂ’ intentions are for the little girl. Harris creates suspense in a subtle and understated fashion and this style is employed throughout the film as nothing is shown or explained explicitly; he does not underestimate the audience and it is clear that the purpose is not to shock, and therefore compels curiosity and consideration.
While her kidnapper endeavours to win LeslieÂ’s trust, the mood remains quietly ominous in deliberating how he will exploit her confidence, if he can attain it. It is in this hopeless situation that Leslie meets another of their hostages, Donnie, and a bond that ordinary circumstances could not generate is set in motion. Their alliance is portrayed with great tenderness and allows for the more sinister moments to be broken up with others so endearing that it encompasses the length of the emotional spectrum, and obliges total attention.
As Leslie matures it is clear that as much as she denies her past, she cannot escape it. The torture she suffered as a child haunts her adulthood and it is only through her actions that we can tell the events took place. She rejects her parentsÂ’ very existence, and only accepts her life to be one of anguish, degradation and loneliness.
Can she escape the vicious circle of trauma she experienced, or is the pain destined to be passed on through her bitterness and warped view of the world?A great deal is left to the audienceÂ’s intuition as the dialogue is reduced to a minimum, although it is saved somewhat by a beautifully perceptive soundtrack.
However, the slow pace becomes fairly tedious in parts, in particular in the beginning as very little of the plot is revealed and there are too many unanswered questions. The Hollywood sheen makes it visually accessible, but there is an edge to the cinematography that is quite unique with many shots filmed only partly in focus; Leslie and her story are at the centre throughout.
To some extent, Gardens of the Night requires a degree of patience as it becomes static and disconnected in places. The occasional clichÃ© has been dragged from the back catalogue of predictability, and there is some undeveloped characterisation and less than perfect acting in parts.
However, it becomes quite impossible not to be drawn in to the deeply moving and insightful tone that is created. It is gritty and modest without trying to provoke or appal, and most importantly it is genuine. It addresses the horrifying occurrences that transpire with great respect whilst demonstrating how love and companionship can triumph from the most desperate of places.
Above all, Gardens of the Night is honest; it does not patronise or glamorise, but conveys the shocking subject matter with immense thoughtfulness. It is an honest and sincere piece of cinema that can move even the most cynical of spectators.