i am ALL GIRLS (2021) is a dark thriller from South African which dives deep into the disturbingly real world of human trafficking.
Inspired by the true stories of girls who disappeared near Johannesburg, South Africa, i am ALL GIRLS deviates significantly from what is known about the circumstances surrounding the abduction and murder to tell a bigger story. While utilizing clips of the real serial killer’s confession, the movie weaves a narrative more complex, likely more sinister, and more relevant story to contemporary times. Thus, the filmmakers use historical events to creatively frame a bigger message while keeping the narrative’s pace moving forward through the dogged efforts of a detective and crime-scene investigator at the center of the movie.
Framing a Bigger Story
Detective Jodie Snyman (Erica Wessels) is driven to find girls who have been disappearing. They are likely caught up in a larger, global sex-trafficking ring with ties to the Middle East, but she struggles to keep ahead of her leads. Each time her team raids a suspected location, the girls have already been smuggled out away. Her failures to retrieve the girls puts her police unit, and her career, at risk.
The mystery deepens as Jodie’s suspects end up dead. A serial killer is on the loose. Helped by a forensics expert and personal friend, Ntombizonke (Hlubi Mboya), their intimacy seems genuine. But Ntombizonke’s own dark past, hidden from Jodie, reveals far more complicated motives.
A victim of child trafficking herself, Ntombizonke’s scarred childhood has put her on a different path. Sometimes she shares this path with Jodie. Sometimes it diverges, even as they pursue the same objective. This dark / light duality keeps tension in the plot, and the pace moving forward.
Jodie becomes increasingly frustrated by her inability to rescue the girls or make an arrest. She also becomes reckless. This failure to follow protocol puts her investigations at risk. This recklessness amps up Ntombizonke’s own determination. The stakes rise with each new clue as their investigation gets closer and closer to the corrupt public officials who have orchestrated operation.
A dark, well-crafted movie
i am ALL GIRLS is a well crafted movie with enough suspense to keep the audience engaged to the end. Mboya and Wessels play off each other well; they effectively convey the intensities of their own personal and professional relationships. A fine supporting cast including Mothusi Magano as Wessels’ boss, Captain George Mulueki, Brendan Daniels as her partner Samuel, and Masas Mbangeni as a fellow detective, help round out a solid cast of supporting players.
I am ALL GIRLS is not a light movie. It grapples with a dark and serious subject without pulling punches. For those looking for a crime thriller with meaning, i am ALL GIRLS is a good choice to queue up for the evening.
And, yes, the capitalization in the title means something. In fact, it means a lot.
Now streaming on Netflix.