‘I Am All Girls’ is a 2021 South African mystery thriller film directed by Donovan Marsh, written by Wayne Fitzjohn and Marcell Greeff, and starring Deon Lotz, Erica Wessels, and Masasa Mbangeni. In 1994, young girl Ntombizonke Bapai is abducted with several other girls and taken to the compound of National Party cabinet minister FJ Nolte (Deon Lotz), where many of them are sold into human trafficking. When she is “used up”, she and other girls in this ring are sent to a low-end brothel, where their lives in this dark world continue. Years later, Ntombizonke (Hlubi Mboya) works with the police alongside Jodie Snyman (Erica Wessels). After another failed trafficking bust, Jodie has pushed away from pursuing these kinds of cases and instead is assigned a murder case. She soon discovers that this murder – one that left a pedophile dead in a park with initials carved into his chest – is connected to the sex trafficking crimes she’s been investigating all along.
One of the central themes of ‘I Am All Girls’ is the psychological burden suffered by police officers — especially those in charge of cases of murder, violence, and human trafficking. It appears as if Jodie’s work is her whole life, and all she’s able to do is obsess over every minute detail of police work. This may make for good investigating, not necessarily good personal or professional relations. She isn’t the most popular person in the office; her boss and she clash on many things, and he orders her to take time off as she’s exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress.
Sex trafficking – especially the trafficking of young children – is such a delicate topic, and so difficult to portray sensitively on screen. Fortunately, ‘I Am All Girls’ tackles this heavy subject matter with great sensitivity and nuance, leaving things implied and allowing those horrific thoughts to speak for themselves. ‘I Am All Girls’ would not work without Donovan Marsh’s compassionate direction, but he manages to tell a story equal parts infuriating, thrilling, and emotionally affecting.
Both of the leading ladies do breathtaking work, but Hlubi Mboya is simply extraordinary as avenging angel Ntombizonke Bapai. She is the beating heart of ‘I Am All Girls’, putting on a face for her coworkers at the police department and shedding tears (and taking revenge) behind closed doors. Mboya just has one of those faces; you can’t look away, and there’s so much understood from just a glance or a sigh. Pair her beautiful performance with her chemistry with Erica Wessels, and you get something truly magical.
What sets ‘I Am All Girls’ apart from the rest is the fact that two women are at the heart of this tale. Not only are Jodie and Ntombi’s respective journeys powerful, but their connection to one another resonates. There’s such a deep love there, even before the two of them seem to understand it, and that’s in large part thanks to the chemistry between performers Hlubi Mboya and Erica Wessels, but because of good writing and direction. Knowing what they both have invested in this world and each other makes every twist and turn hit that much harder. A film about the corruption that allows such crimes against humanity like sex trafficking to exist would have been interesting enough, sure, but these leading ladies turn this story into something incredibly special.
Overall, ‘I Am All Girls’ is a solid thriller let down by some questionable editing that spoils a big reveal within the opening 5 minutes of the movie. Despite that, there’s certainly enough to like here and the topic of trafficking is handled with respect and care, wrapping everything up nicely at the end. It may not be the best revenge thriller of the year but it is a solid watch nonetheless.
Final Score – [7/10]
Reviewed by – Ritika Kispotta
Follow her @KispottaRitika on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KispottaRitika)
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