SXSW Film Review: The Light of the Moon (USA, 2017) is more than a victim’s story, but a tale of human complexity

Bonnie is young and worldly, holds a job as an architect and lives in NYC. She has good friends, a pretty good social life and is in a stable relationship with a man who is equally as upwardly mobile, enjoying the same perks as anyone with a career in a city able to hold the young and ambitious.

In other words, Bonnie and her social circle are much like anyone we may know, or might be just like any one of us. But, just like everything in this life, what appears on the outside is definitely not what’s below the surface, and in The Light of the Moon, Australian director Jessica M. Thompson‘s debut feature film, we see that Bonnie is battling the emotional and physical scars of a traumatic experience – being randomly sexual assaulted in her own neighbourhood after a night out with friends.

Whilst the story of rape and assault are not new to cinema, it’s very rare that the storylines go past the most immediate events following such a traumatic experience. Many films about assault and violence follow the event itself, the nature of the violence and then the trial that follows it. What’s not usually touched on is how the victims recover, react and respond to the world around them once the crime is committed. It’s here, in the film’s treatment of the themes of violence, denial, blame, relationships and finally, slowly, recovery, that The Light of the Moon really excels.

The film is confronting in this way and very honest in its portrayal of a woman who is struggling to come to terms with her attack. Some stories of violence against women assume that the woman is in a destructive and volatile relationship. In other words, she was abused by someone she trusted.

But Stephanie Beatriz‘s Bonnie isn’t that woman. Instead, hers was a random attack and shakes her up in a way she doesn’t want to confront. It means the film is as much about the relationships Bonnie nurtures as it is about the crime that took place, and probably more so because the film tracks Bonnie through the aftermath in her day to day life more than anything else.

It will be enlightening for many to see a victim of attack portrayed in such a way. Bonnie wants to move on but can’t do so completely until she admits to herself what happened. She doesn’t want her friends and partner to pussyfoot around her as she can’t stand the condescending way she’s being treated at times. In many instances in life, we can all relate to feeling like this.

One of the more memorable scenes in the film is a sex scene, no less, where Bonnie and her partner Matt (Michael Stahl-David) talk frankly about how the attack affects their sex life. It’s heartbreaking and loving at the same time and is commendable for its uncompromising honesty.

The Light Of the Moon would not be as moving as it was if it were not for the performances of the leads, Stephanie Beatriz as Bonnie and Michael Stahl-David as Matt. As mentioned earlier, the film is so much more than just a portrayal of an attack and its victim. It’s about the relationships that sustain a woman following a traumatic event, and Bonnie and Matt’s relationship is tested throughout.

Aside from the relationships in the film, The Light of the Moon also teaches us about resilience and humanity. In Bonnie, we see a woman who real and emotional, especially through the times when she’s not being honest with herself. In one scene, she approaches a woman on the street listening to her headphones, imploring her to be careful. In another scene, she talks on the phone to her mother but is reluctant to tell her about recent events.

The Light of the Moon is also a wonderful directorial debut for writer/director/producer Jessica M. Thompson and co-producer Carlo Velayo, both of whom hail from Sydney and have developed projects in New York, where the film is set. In fact, the film was loosely based on events that occurred to the director’s friend.

Of the honour of being included in the SXSW festival, Thompson is proud of the work. “We’re very proud and very excited. It’s an incredible honour and I think the exposure already has been amazing. We’ve had calls from so many agents, directors, contributors, producers, and lots of different film management teams,” she says.

The Light of the Moon is more than just a victim’s story. It’s about her full life, showing all facets of her world and moving her beyond mere casualty to human being.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Light of the Moon premiered tonight at SXSW in Austin, Texas. For details about its other screenings at the event, click HERE.