There’s a torrent of socio-political subtext underpinning Emmanuelle Pickett‘s lean and muscular thriller All Souls, but it’s ultra-tight runtime doesn’t allow too much of it to come to the surface. What does come through is some simply-sketched but effective characterisation and a fine central performance from Mikey Madison as a young woman enduring a night from hell. With its setting riddled in poverty, dereliction, and drugs, but still imbued with a sense of community, it’s a narratively slight but enjoyable debut.

River (Mikey Madison) is a young mother who has been blackmailed into being a criminal informant against local drug kingpin Silas (rapper G-Easy). Silas also happens to be the mother of River’s five-year-old daughter, after exploiting the girl as a troubled 16-year-old. A wired-up Mikey is forced to use her connection to Silas to ask for an opportunity to deal for his as part of a sting operation. It’s a situation that threatens her freedom, her life, and her daughter.

Taking place over one Hallowe’en evening, All Souls does not mess about. Like its protagonist it intends to get in, do its business, and get out again. There is no extra narrative flesh, or anything extraneous. While this ruthless streamlining means the story hurtles past with a fluid dynamism, it does leave the sense that there’s little here that really puts All Souls’ head above the crowd of low-budget thrillers that have come out in recent years. The plot is familiar, the neon-soaked cinematography is nice but is increasingly becoming a trope, and the action if efficiently handled, but nothing extraordinary. Yet it does have some other areas in which it impresses, such as their adherence to the maim of show-don’t-tell.

Pickett and writer Anthony Ragnone II use some discreet symbolism to show the bond between mother and daughter in lieu of screentime, both having one half of a skull painted on their face, implying symbiotic closeness and mutual reliance. You get the impression that little Jade (Mia Love Disnard) has been something of a saviour for River; a reason to try and leave her past behind. It’s a beautifully simple but eloquent choice. The tight script deftly but elegantly also sets up the loose community of the marginalised that have been there for River when all the institutions of the State – government, police etc, have failed.

Mikey Madison does a great job in carrying the film, and many of the themes, in the weariness in her eyes, the set of her posture, and in River’s practiced balance between defiance and resignation. G-Easy is also gives a decent performance as Silas, playing him with superficial charm and a real edge of menace. The brevity means there is little depth of character afforded to the supporting cast, and it could be argued that the film would benefit from a little bit expansion of the police characters and how they intimidate and use those forced int acting as criminal informants. Still, this is a decent little thriller, albeit one that’s unlikely to be hugely memorable. Neither is it likely to be the role that acts as a breakout catalyst for Mikey Madison. It is however a strong demonstration of her capabilities.

Available on streaming services from Mon 25 Mar 2024