Directors: Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick
Stars: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Joaquim de Almeida
Back when reviewing exceedingly-online 2018 thriller Searching, I prompted that the real heroes of the piece were the editing team of Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, whose sterling cut’n’paste job sold the assemblage as something approaching a believable browsing experience. Here they are, 5 years later, helming this adjacent follow-up film (the Kim case is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it referenced early doors), helping another duo up the ladder they’ve climbed. This time around the invisible ninjas are Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowski, so expect a similarly high concept “screenlife” thriller from those two circa 2028.
For now Missing continues the quasi-found footage vibe of detailing an ad-hoc criminal investigation from the vantage of a laptop screen. Meet June (Storm Reid), your typical Van Nuys 18-year-old who takes her mother (Nia Long) for granted. Dear mama Grace is about to head off for a romantic trip to Colombia with new beau Kevin (Ken Leung), although June is less concerned with their safety as she is getting the house to herself for a quote-unquote rager. Mystifyingly booking this event for the night before her mother’s return, June wakes up late, rushes to pick her up from the airport, only to find… nothing and no one. With international red tape slowing reactions to the fledgling missing persons case, June turns to her own online knowhow to track down her missing mum.
Passing the torch to a Gen Z teen makes perfect sense. There’s an inherent believability to June’s online dexterity. This is the world she has grown up with and, as the opening stretch makes clear, spends a lot of her time in. Passwords, VPNs, online tracking systems, it’s all very instinctual for June, and there are pacy sections here where dialogue is kept to a minimum as we just watch her work efficiently. The air of mystery just about stops it from feeling like a muted YouTube tutorial.
A veteran of two seasons of Euphoria (among other things), Reid is an assured presence, not that we get much of a sense of her person beyond her growing concern and determination. These things in themselves are signifiers enough, perhaps. If this were a solo jaunt it’d be rather tiresome, but fortunately the script ropes in some willing accomplices to her cause, from laconic bestie Veena (Megan Suri) to – more prominently – gigging Colombian biker Javier (Joaquim del Almeida). The tale is appropriately twisty, even if its main hold card is eminently guessable from about five seconds in. Nevertheless, the foursome of keyboard warriors who wrote this yarn throw us a couple extra blindsiders to keep it all interesting.
As things progress, however, it starts to feel a little overcooked. Aforementioned believability is ultimately bypassed in favour of a series of soap opera-esque revelations and reactions, and Missing pivots a little too far into unlikely melodrama; the kind prevalent in the true crime serials that the movie increasingly lambasts.
There are neat stretches before this unfortunate descent. Particularly affecting and smart is a retelling of Grace and Kevin’s furtive relationship seen via June hacking into and then scrolling their online dating history. Private video messages shortcut a keen sense of intimacy. The sequence lingers perhaps because it allows us a rare sense of positivity outside of the calculated sentimentality that is weaponised elsewhere.
Otherwise, Missing serves as a stark reminder of how incredibly traceable we all are. The fingerprints of our online activity pervade every aspect of our lives. June’s resourcefulness is not anomalous to her and, exiting the theatre, one is liable to feel a mite more paranoid about just how much we leave in our wake via day-to-day travel, bank transactions, browser history etc, even public domain CCTV. While the movie ostensibly uses the global accessibility of these things in a positive stance – June’s quest is righteous – it also underlines how these same advances might be used against us.
Certainly these ruminations last longer than the incredulous third-act plot moves (and plot holes), which feel overextended and somewhat staler than the ultra-contemporary method of their delivery. While never obnoxious, Missing is overlong and overly busy. Striving to approximate something ripped from the headlines, it eventually feels more like forgettable clickbait. Still, The Leftovers/Scream 2.0 hives can rise up for a glorious little cameo in the film’s closing moments. Sadly, this remains the highlight of the entire experience for this viewer.