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THE LIGHT OF THE MOON (2017) review

November 2, 2017

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written by: Jessica M. Thompson
produced by: Jessica M. Thompson, Carlo Velayo and Michael Cuomo
directed by: Jessica M. Thompson
rated: not rated
runtime: 94 min.
U.S. release date: March 24, 2017 (SXSW) & November 1, 2017 (limited)

 

There have always been films about rape victims and all that transpires after their devastating assault – the investigation and the trauma, as well as the extremely uncomfortable feelings that come with each day following the crime. In “The Light of the Moon”, writer/producer/director Jessica M. Thompson provides an intimate and honest look at the aftermath of rape, free from what’s typically depicted in a film including this material, like police procedurals and identity of the rapist. After all, the criminal’s life is rarely ever altered in the wake of such a despicable act and figuring out how to put one foot forward for the victim can be a minute-by-minute process. What Thompson does in her thoughtful and sensitive feature-length debut is remind us what transpires in the life of someone who never wanted to be considered a victim.

In its opening scenes, “The Light of the Moon” establishes Latina architect, Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Short Term 12”), as a confident and cool, hard-working colleague to Jack (Conrad Ricamora,”How to Get Away With Murder”) at a firm where she’s trying to prove her value. She shares an apartment in the Bushwhick section of Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Matt (Michael Stahl-David, “The Good Wife” and “Cloverfield”), and while we first meet him when he arrives at her work to apologize and let her know he won’t be joining her and her co-workers for drinks after work because he has to entertain a client yet again.

Bonnie is obviously disappointed and the two get into what seems like a stereotypical round of sarcastic arguments about how both of their work commitments and social activities always seem to get in the way of them spending time together. We’ve seen that covered before elsewhere and thankfully it doesn’t take long for Bonnie and Matt to shake off cliche and establish themselves as real people (she’s a real person and he’s not a typical guy) and not a checklist of perquisite characterizations and thanks to the great portrayals here by Beatriz and Stahl-David.

 

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They both make an amicable decision to lay low and spend time with each other the next day, since Matt will be out all night and she’s going out with her friends. The scenes that follow are with Bonnie, as she can be seen dancing with her colleagues at a club not far from there apartment. She’s having a good time, throwing back shots and laughing, but there’s also this guy she has to fend off on the dance floor who gives her some skeevy uncomfortable vibes. As Bonnie and her friends part ways, she begins the three-block walk home on her own with headphones intact and is suddenly pulled into a dark alley and is accosted and raped.

It all happens so fast and Thompson and cinematographer Autumn Eakin aren’t interested in getting graphic with the assault, focusing explicitly on Bonnie’s terrified face, putting viewers right there with her during that awful ordeal. What little we see and hear is more than enough and Thompson knows this. In no time, her unidentified rapist is long gone and Bonnie is left to stumble home, bloody and in shock. The story is just beginning.

With television shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and the way in which rape victims have been portrayed on the big-screen, there is unfortunately a certain familiarity with what takes place after a rape, but it’s rare that we stay with a victim this closely immediately after. The first question for the viewer is inevitably, “What’s next?”, since it’s natural to wonder how Bonnie can possibly consider what to do now. Back at her apartment, she is shown taking off her underwear and placing them in a plastic bag along with the facial tissue she used to clean up down there, an action which tells us she’s thinking of evidence before she showers.

When Matt comes home, he sees her bruised face and she has to tell him something. Beatriz portrays a humiliation and pain in this moment that feels so right and real. No one wants to come out and immediately tell their significant other they’ve been raped, so she understandably tells him she was mugged and tells him she needs to go to the hospital. Still, there’s an instinctual need to avoid what’s transpired.

Already bombarded with questions from her boyfriend when he first saw her, Bonnie then has to endure the onslaught of questions and directions from hospital staff, detectives (Craig Walker and Heather Simms) that are brought in and a social worker (Patricia Noonan) on call. Questions like “How much did you have to drink?” and “Were you wearing your headphones?” feel like questions asked in a courtroom, instead of an emergency room. The rape victim is left to deal with these questions that make her feel like she made poor decisions. She is given tetanus shots and follow-up medications for STDs and AIDS, all from one life-altering violation.

 

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Thompson’s screenplay and direction are very strong here, getting to an honesty and emotional uncertainty that feels authentic, but it’s Beatriz and Stahl-David that really hit the right notes here. From that difficult scene in the hospital where Bonnie reveals she’s been raped with Matt by her side processing such shocking news, to the awkward feeling Bonnie has each time Matt goes out of his way to meet her needs and look after her, the two actors already have a natural chemistry together, but how they both portray characters who are trying not to feel divided isn’t just convincing, it’s impressive.

“The Light of the Moon” effectively takes us through the harrowing and unsettling process. The process of medical care and police involvement and also the process of how this couple must process all this. This may not have happened to Matt personally, but he is the only one with the knowledge that Bonnie was raped and he knows that’s a lot to deal with. They both would like to go back to the way things were, but they also know that’s not possible.

The rest of the film touches on questions that plague both the couple and the audience: How will they be able to have sex again? Will they be thinking about the rape during sex? How could they not? Will the rapist get caught? Will there be another victim? Will Bonnie seek help in therapy? Will Matt? Can these two endure this and their relationship continue? Will Bonnie tell her mother? Most of these questions are answered, but none of them are easy answers. Every step is difficult. Every step is also one step further away from the night of the rape for Bonnie, as she slowly tries to move forward. She’ll still be rattled and remain alert – which we see during a scene where she confronts a woman one night who is walking by herself with headphones on, oblivious to her surroundings – and that may never truly go away.

Considering rape victims often turn the tables on their rapist in the movies and wind up becoming aggressive attackers themselves, setting out on exacting revenge or bringing their attacker to justice, it’s refreshing to find a film that’s willing to patiently follow a protagonist in a more realistic manner. It won’t be easy for viewers who have experienced sexual assault themselves, but in this current state of rape culture and abuse being brought to light in the media, it’s important to have something out there like “The Light of the Moon” to allow a story to represent truthfully those who often don’t know how or when to have a voice.

“The Light of the Moon” received the Audience Award this past spring at SXSW and is now receiving a limited theatrical release.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

 

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