The Light of the Moon delves into the messy realities of the emotional and physical fallout of rape, giving rise to a moving yet sensitive drama.
The feature length debut for director Jessica M. Thompson, The Light of the Moon is a sexual assault drama anchored by a leading performance from Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Stephanie Beatriz. Beatriz was among the standouts in Destin Daniel Crutton’s Indie drama Short Term 12 before she became known for playing Detective Rosa Diaz, so in a sense Light of the Moon brings her back to her acting roots. Thompson, for her part, is an Australian filmmaker who worked in the field of documentaries and shorts prior to her fictional narrative debut. Her storytelling sensibilities serve the subject matter here well, allowing the film to succeed as a thoughtful case study. The Light of the Moon delves into the messy realities of the emotional and physical fallout of rape, giving rise to a moving yet sensitive drama.
Bonnie (Beatriz) is a Brooklyn-based architect leading the good life, between her rising career and her steady homelife with boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David). Then one night, after an evening of letting off steam and drinking with her friends, Bonnie is walking home when she is attacked and sexually assaulted by a hooded assailant. Although she attempts to convince Matt at first that she was “only” mugged, the truth comes out when Bonnie is interviewed by the police and treated for her wounds at the hospital afterwards. Nevertheless, Bonnie asks Matt to not tell anyone what really happened, including her friends and even her own parents.
Despite her insistence that she’s on the mend, Bonnie’s efforts to return to her old life falter and her struggles begin to impact everything from her friendships to her efforts at work. Crack similarly begins to appear in her relationship with Matt as they attempt to regain their former sense of intimacy, with Matt further buckling under the pressure of being the only one close to Bonnie who knows her secret. Everything finally comes to a head when another woman in Bonnie’s neighborhood is raped and the attacker is caught and arrested, forcing Bonnie to help in the investigation to find out if he’s the same man who assaulted her.
The Light of the Moon won the Narrative Feature Audience Award at the 2017 SXSW Festival and was honored with additional nominations (along with a win at the Women Film Critics Circle Awards) during its festival circuit tour last year. Written, directed, and edited by Thompson, Light of the Moon handles its difficult subject matter from the perspective of a compassionate outsider looking in. This approach serves the narrative well and was no doubt influenced by Thompson’s background in documentary storytelling, allowing the film to avoid being exploitative in its treatment of topics like rape and how people process traumatic experiences. Thompson and her cinematographer Autumn Easkin (who also comes from a documentary and short films background) similarly keep the camera fixed on the characters’ faces throughout much of the film, focusing on their emotional experiences over the more lurid elements of any particular scene.
Thompson’s script is similarly considerate in its approach and avoids sensationalizing Bonnie’s emotional journey over the course of the film’s runtime. The Light of the Moon is refreshingly inclusive in its approach to the subject of sexual assault too, as it find ways to organically touch upon important issues over the course of telling Bonnie’s story (like how women of color rape victims – black women especially – are treated differently by the law than white women). While Light of the Moon doesn’t dive too deeply into any of the tangents and side topics that it raises over the course of its narrative, it smartly avoids overextending itself by trying to take on too many issues at once. As such, the film manages to be informative in the way that documentaries are without feeling like it’s a public service message disguised as a fictional character drama.
Beatriz’s performance is a big part of what makes Light of the Moon work as a whole. Ditching the lower vocal tones that she uses to play Rosa Diaz for her regular voice, Beatriz fully explores Bonnie’s struggles in the aftermath of her assault, including her self-blame and denial of just how much the event actually impacted her mentally and physically. Stahl-David is equally strong in his portrayal of Matt, showing how the character tries his very best to do and say all the right things to Bonnie, to a fault. Thompson often films Beatriz and Stahl-David’s one on one scenes in single and/or largely uninterrupted takes, allowing the actors’ performances to take center stage and illustrate what Bonnie and Matt are going through emotionally, but are hesitant to tell one another.
As solid as Thompson’s first directorial effort is overall, there are some flaws that hold it back from achieving greatness. The Light of the Moon was filmed on location in New York on what was clearly a micro-budget, but has difficulties with creating the sort of rich atmosphere and sense of time/place that other filmmakers have while operating on a similar shoestring budget. Similarly, the film struggles to flesh out important supporting players like Bonnie’s gay friend Jack (How To Get Away with Murder‘s Conrad Ricamora), and falls short of developing them beyond familiar archetypes. Nevertheless, the supporting cast makes the most of the comparatively thin material provided to them. Actors such as Cindy Cheung (13 Reasons Why) and Catherine Curtin (Orange is the New Black) even manage to leave a lasting impression, despite only appearing in a single scene or two.
The Light of the Moon didn’t gain much traction when it began a limited theatrical run last November, but the film is worth checking out now that it’s being made available for streaming through Amazon Prime, as part of their program Amazon Video Direct’s Film Festival Stars. In addition to Beatriz’s excellent performance, the film does a good job addressing what is sadly relevant-as-ever subject matter in a considerate and non-exploitative fashion. Here is to hoping that The Light of the Moon gets the attention that it deserves and further shines the spotlight on Beatriz as a still budding acting talent.
The Light of the Moon is now available for streaming through Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Amazon on Demand. It is 90 minutes long and is not rated, but is intended for mature audiences.
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