As much as we try not to think about it, human trafficking and modern slavery are a reality. The idea that it’s happening right under our noses should worry us and lead to action but it’s so difficult to know what to do. The nightmare seems just out-of-reach until it happens to you or someone you love. This is why films like I Am All Girls is so important in simply creating awareness of these underground criminal activities. Sexual exploitation in these scenarios tends to get more coverage but the idea that slavery isn’t dead in our so-called civil society, should shock and horrify us however you frame it.
Taken dealt with a father’s undercover mission to rescue his daughter. As thrilling and bulletproof as this actioner was, the statistics suggest that the recovery rate is more like 1%. Instead of triggering a former elite ops one-man-army, I Am All Girls deals with a tough special crimes investigator who trails a string of murders related to a global child sex trafficking syndicate. After the fact, this mystery crime thriller picks the story up decades after six girls went missing. What appears to be the work of a serial killer leads the investigators further down the rabbit hole of crimes smothered by the Apartheid government.
I Am All Girls was entrusted to Donovan Marsh, who directed iNumber Number (Avenged) and Hunter Killer. Marsh has experience directing South African thrillers, graduating to the submarine actioner Hunter Killer starring Gerard Butler. His latest effort is promising and provocative, yet seems like a misstep. A timely issues thriller, I Am All Girls has edge and flair. The filmmaker cultivates great mood in this smoldering mystery, allowing the heaviness of human trafficking to permeate.
Marsh is also able to siphon solid performances from his shining local ensemble. Erica Wessels, Hlubi Mboya, Mothusi Magano, Deon Lotz and Brendon Daniels elevate I Am All Girls, bringing impassioned and seasoned performances to screen. Mboya gives Ntombizonke the same weight of emotion as the film’s mood, while Lotz captures a gleeful inner turmoil in a pinch hitter performance. Wessels and Magano turn up the slow-boiling intensity as the intrepid Jodie and her cautious Captain while Daniels adds street cred through a supporting role.
“I said, that will be all…”
Moving at a good pace and leveraging some prime locations from shipping container yards to outlying farmhouses, I Am All Girls is a handsomely mounted local thriller. The smooth cinematography ties in with the dark mood, elevating production value by filling the frame to capture its gritty production design elements and backdrops wherever possible. In terms of the gliding visuals and driving soundtrack, the mystery crime thriller is solid, able to compete with international productions.
As promising and competent as it is, it’s ultimately undermined by a thin script. The visual decadence can only carry you so far before the characters and story have to sustain an audience. Relying on a sparse script, the filmmaker’s able to focus on the look and feel of I Am All Girls, but the sacrifice is a real connection to the characters. Unable to mine characterisation through nuance or dialogue, this lack of character development and focus keeps us hanging onto the genre’s clichés and the tenacious performances.
I Am All Girls has a strong concept but the split perspective approach is too ambitious. Trying to essentially house two leads diminishes both of their characters and stories in the process. The limited dialogue gives you whiffs of character but isn’t enough to make you identify with or care for them. Keeping things more geared towards style would have worked better if there had been more suspense. For a dark thriller about serial killers and human trafficking syndicates, there just isn’t enough of this calibration, diluted by a lack of connection.
It’s this distance that compounds over time, aggravated by some strange stylistic choices to denote the victims that further withdraws the viewer from watching in the moment. I Am All Girls has impact value, deals with important issues, grapples with a promising concept, features a game ensemble and looks the part. Unfortunately, its half-baked script seems rushed and falls flat, doing much with little, progressively loosening its grip as arrested development sets in. On paper, I Am All Girls deserved to be so much better. It’s just a pity that the paper that matters didn’t provide the right angle, enough charactersiation or the story framework to truly support the overarching vision.
The bottom line: Hollow