Like its predecessor, Aneesh Chaganty's Searching, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick's Missing is a movie that should see every ticket purchase come with a grain of salt. If your incredulity forbids you to accept a person keeping their webcam open at all times on their desktop or fantastic citizen sleuthing from a teenager that runs circles around the FBI, you’re going to have a tough time enjoying the cinematic experience. After all, the film basically hinges on one’s acceptance of those ideas in both its aesthetic choices and plotting.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that an open mind will take you far. Accepting the style and conceit, the reward is an anthology sequel that is superior to Searching. The screenlife approach remains novel and clever, and it’s well-utilized for a story that effectively takes wild twists and turns that change your perspective on the core mystery and force you to reevaluate predictions for where it’s all going. It gets a bit silly, but never too much to undermine the tension, and it stays grounded thanks to a solid lead turn by Storm Reid.
Introducing a brand new ensemble of characters while being set in the same universe as Searching (as confirmed via fun Easter eggs), Missing begins as 18-year-old June Allen (Reid) prepares for a week of unsupervised fun. Her mother, Grace (Nia Long) and her boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), are jetting off for a fun and romantic vacation in Colombia, and June makes plans with her friend, Veena (Megan Suri), to throw an epic party.
This works out well, as fun is had, and a Taskrabbit is hired to clean up the mess that is left in the house… but everything takes a turn when June goes to the airport to give Grace and Kevin a ride home. She’s on time and even has a funny sign, but the couple doesn’t show up at baggage claim. June ends up calling her mother’s lawyer, Heather (Amy Landecker), and fills out an international missing person’s report, but she takes matters into her own hands when she learns that the hotel where Grace and Kevin were staying overwrites security footage every 48 hours.
An investigation that starts with June hiring a man in Colombia named Javier (Joaquim de Almeida) to acquire said footage eventually sees the teenager fall down a rabbit hole searching for her mom. Looking into Kevin’s past and relationship with Grace starts to inspire scary questions, but the protagonist is unflinching in her pursuit of the truth about what happened and makes some startling progress finding answers with just her ingenuity and internet connection.
Missing is certainly fantastical, but its smart screenplay is grounded enough to make it work.
The film’s greatest asset is its pacing and structure. In collaboration with Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian (who wrote Searching together and have story and producers credits on the sequel), Nick Johnson and Will Merrick have crafted a smart screenplay that is particularly adept when it comes to false leads and red herrings. If you’re trying to solve the mystery before the protagonist and your eyes and ears are tuned into all of the clues being dispensed – both big and small – you’re going to find yourself wonderfully surprised as major revelations steer huge pivots in in the plot… and then you’re going to be delighted as your new expectations eventually end up being decimated as well.
There are shortcuts around reality that are taken – the standout being that Javier, working for $8 per hour, turns out to be the most helpful human being that the gig economy has ever produced – but it is based in enough reality to not be totally ridiculous. For the true crime enthusiasts of modern pop culture who listen to podcasts and watch documentaries imagining that they can personally solve mysteries that have baffled law enforcement, Missing is an itch-scratching fantasy, and a lot of fun in that capacity. With internet search histories, location tracking, public cameras, and more, June makes intelligent use of the tools of the internet age to try and find her mom, and it’s compelling.
While not doing a great deal of innovating, Missing is a solid addition to screenlife film.
As the latest addition to the growing screenlife genre, the movie can be said to only further demonstrate impressive viability in the approach. There are definitely shortcuts taken, the biggest being June’s always-active Facetime app that allows us to look at her while she is clue hunting, but what’s far more valuable and impressive is how the film visually presents the mystery while maintaining a realism in the way that people use computers and phones. Like the best examples of the genre, it not only takes full advantage of the familiar (with apps, websites, etc.), but effectively provides us insight into the mind of the characters with simples things like frenetic searching and messages that are typed but deleted/not sent. It’s speaks a special modern language, and speaks it well.
Missing can’t be said to particularly advance screenlife cinema, but it is further proof of the impressive viability for storytelling in the medium – and the story that unfolds is engaging, exciting, and well-told. It’s a fun and twisty mystery, and the film makes a strong argument for there to be more chapters made in this budding anthology series.
NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.
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