An important story lost in poorly focused action.
|At first, I Am All Girls is reminiscent of Lost Girls. Another Netflix movie, a thriller-drama based on a true story about trying to find abducted girls. However, after the true story intro, and then the movie begins with the race to find the girls, it becomes clearer that this is more like The Captive – where they tell the audience how it ends at the beginning. It was an interesting but controversial approach with The Captive, but feels like the wrong approach here.
Directed by: Donovan Marsh
Screenplay by: Wayne Fitzjohn, Marcell Greef,
and Emile Leuvennink
Starring: Erica Wessels, Masasa Mbangeni
The intro text tells us that it is based on a true story where the girls were never found; the killer was caught and confessed, but the Apartheid government didn’t release the confession so what actually happened is not known. So two things, it’s very odd to frame this as a true story but ‘we don’t know what happened so here’s some guessing.’ That can be forgiven if the movie is about the racial divide and an examination of an Apartheid government that interfered with solving the case and finding justice/closure for the victims’ families.
The racial undercurrent exists, but is minimal and sub-surface level. It’s mostly about the hunt to find the girls, which we literally know were not found (and is not a spoiler), and all that happens may or may not be true. Which brings me back to framing it as a true story, which does not help the film frame its narrative.
There’s a lot of chaotic action. The lead detective, a white woman, has become very personally invested in the girls’ livelihood, and knows the importance of following all leads within the first 48 hours. Unfortunately all of that really means it is just chaotic action with zero suspense. The lack of suspense really hurts the film since it doesn’t have a strong connection to the characters to help keep the audience engaged.
The cinematography goes for a dull, washed-out, historical look. Very stereotypical of tragic-dramas, and does not help the film rise above its poor narrative choices. However, the framing of the shots helps give a good feel of Johannesburg and the recreation of the time period seems realistic.
There’s an important story to I Am All Girls, but how that story is presented causes it to focus on its weakest elements. The film created action with no suspense and mostly ignored the greater sociological forces that the main character is obviously facing.