Exploring the serious issue of Human trafficking in our own country; especially the trafficking of children as young as five years. Giving an inside look at the devastation these children face on a daily basis.
Layla is ten years old, and about to meet her new family. She just doesn't know it yet. An act of kindness met with deception leads to Layla's abduction and descent into a life of sex slavery hidden in an ordinary neighborhood. It could even be yours. I AM STILL HERE takes us inside Layla's new world, showing what really happens to these children after the first 48 hours, and why it's so difficult to combat the fastest-growing illegal enterprise in the world: the child sex slave industry. Starring Johnny Rey Diaz (Hawaii Five-O), Erika Ringor (Love and Basketball), and Ciara Jiana (Sharknado), this movie is based on exhaustive research into real cases, and is dedicated to all the missing children who are still out there. From first-time writer/director Mischa Marcus and Emmy-nominated and award-winning producer Stephanie Bell.Written by
Blur the Movie, LLC
Interesting, Watchable but Flawed Attempt at Delivering an Important Message Through Film
This film is a very earnest, sincere and sober attempt to tackle one of the most sensitive issues in society today, child sex trafficking. There are many positive points about this film which, on balance, make it well worth watching. The story is told honestly enough that it gets across the ugliness and the brutal reality that sex-enslaved minors live through, yet tactfully enough that it is not distasteful or exploitative of the minors that are the subject of the film. However, in the hands of a first time director/writer, working with a cast of mostly young, inexperienced actors, some scenes fall short of the impact the script clearly intended.
The story centers around a young prostitute, Layla (Ciara Jiana) who wakes up in a hospital after being beaten and left for dead by her pimp. In flashbacks, she recounts her history to a detective, (Erika Ringor) where as a 10 year old girl, she (played by Aliyah Conley) is abducted from her suburban neighborhood in Anytown, USA. She spends the next seven years of her life being moved around the country, along with a handful of other young victims who are introduced to her as her new "sisters". They are systematically drugged, psychologically manipulated, tortured, exploited and sold by a brutal and cunning, yet charismatic pimp. (Johnny Rey Diaz)
The story is a distillation of true events taken from interviews of sex trafficking survivors conducted by the films writer/director, Mischa Marcus. It is a raw subject that will likely not appeal to a wide audience, but being the important issue that it is, this is a movie that needed to be made.
The standout performance in this film is given by Johnny Rey Diaz as the sociopathic, manipulative pimp who, through a combination of drugging, coercion, physical violence, intimidation and psychological manipulation, keeps his brothel of young slaves imprisoned and even cooperative, seeing him as a father figure and protector. Diaz's convincingly chilling performance makes it easy to imagine how such monsters can exist and his visceral portrayal is the glue that holds the whole film together. Also very impressive as the young Layla, is Aliyah Conley in an extraordinarily challenging role for such a young actress. There are some other fine performances in supporting roles by Erika Ringor as a compassionate detective investigating Layla's case and an unsettlingly sympathetic john played by Jeff Hatch that reminds the audience that the sickness of pedophilia is often easily disguised behind a likable, even seemingly noble exterior.
At times, however, some performances, dialogue and directing choices veer into melodramatic embellishment which gives this film a made-for-tv movie-of-the-week cheesiness in certain places that just doesn't work with the delicate subject matter. These schmaltzy moments are sometimes the unavoidable byproduct of an eager and sincere rookie director making a low budget passion project where there isn't the experience, time or money to correct the bits that get a little over cooked. Being familiar with the world of micro-budget filmmaking, I am very forgiving of such flaws in an otherwise good movie, but more demanding audience members might feel a bit let down when such a serious story falls short of a Hollywood caliber delivery.
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