Watch enough Law & Order: SVU and you know the SOP when it comes to detectives and the line of questions they ask rape victims. The Light of the Moon includes that, but the narrative rises above the “crime of the week” three-act structure with the emphasis being on the victim and not the pursuit of justice. With the topic of alleged sexual misconduct and rape culture becoming part of the daily discussion, first-time filmmaker Jessica Thompson explores how sexual assault is a living hell, and illustrates the challenges posed when trying to get back to normalcy.
Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is a successful New York architect and shares a spacious loft apartment with her affectionate boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David). Her life seems idyllic. She is a woman of means, responsibility, and she loves to have a good time with her friends from work, including Jack (Conrad Ricamora) – who seems to be pigeonholed as the token gay best friend but shows his attentiveness as the story plays out.
Walking home alone, just blocks away from her loft, Bonnie is raped by a stranger. Boyfriend Matt was entertaining clients across town at the time; it's an action that weighs heavily and is a wellspring of tremendous guilt and resentment for both him and Bonnie. In the aftermath of the rape Bonnie does her best to put up a defense from others while disguising her trauma. She is honest with Matt and authorities about the assault in the hours following, going through the protocol of swabs, being photographed, and listening to lines of questions that further insinuations of her fondness for libations and revelry in the company of friends. Hours grow to days and weeks and the expanse from the assault grows in how Bonnie carries herself, especially when interacting with Matt. To a point that even a moment of consented intimacy between the couple seems like an invasion and ends up frustrating for both. Matt is so empathetic to her after the assault that his acute helplessness reads like a signpost when all Bonnie really needs is a sounding board.
Stephanie Beatriz's performance is to be championed. The arc of her character gets underneath that tough-gal exterior she has shown as Detective Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine in exploring the trauma of rape. Having a history with friends who have been assaulted weighed heavily with Beatriz and how she approached Bonnie, not as a rape victim but as someone struggling to adjust to life. That desperation, to find answers that are unobtainable, drives home the message that filmmaker Jessica Thompson seeks: Victims, you are not alone.
Sexual assault is systemic, living far beyond the hills of Hollywood or the halls of Congress. The Light of the Moon is an admirable film about a challenging topic. Thompson tackles the subject of rape directly and honestly and doesn't shy away from its inflicted wounds. Beatriz looks emotionally taxed as a woman who has been through the darkness, struggling to reclaim the life she had. Nothing can ever be the same. The best we can hope for is addressing its occurrence. Not through whispers and compromise but vocally and without yield.