Missing – Review

“It goes to some truly bizarre places, but remains compelling because of how breathlessly it’s presented.”

by Ken Bakely

On one hand, Will Merrick and Nick Johnson’s Missing is consciously and obviously meticulous in its construction – it’s a marvelously intricate journey through a digital investigation, as attuned to the ways we use the internet and consider its omnipresent place in our lives as Searching, its predecessor. On the other hand, it’s doing so in a plot that operates on pure reflex. It swoops in with great enthusiasm, smothering the viewer in red herrings. It goes to some truly bizarre places, but remains compelling because of how breathlessly it’s presented. 

The script – by Merrick and Johnson, from a story by Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty – wastes little time in turning its mystery setup into a maelstrom. We’re introduced to June (Storm Reid), a teenager who lives with her mother, Grace (Nia Long). After the death of June’s father many years ago, Grace wanted a fresh start for her and her daughter, and they moved out to Los Angeles to forge ahead. Now, Grace is dating a man named Kevin (Ken Leung), and they’ve gone on vacation in Colombia. But when the time comes for June to pick them up from the airport, they’re nowhere to be found. As the police take up the case, June decides to start looking for answers on her own, commandeering her laptop in a search for clues. She digs through online accounts, looking for location histories and past interactions, and hires Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), a gig worker in Cartagena, to chase leads on the ground. She assembles a patchwork of information, but the answers she seeks will lie less in the details of the ill-fated trip and more in the people involved, who carry more secrets than June could have ever predicted.

And more secrets than the viewer could have ever predicted, as well. To see one big plot twist in a movie coming is one thing. To have new ones introduced in rapid succession, upending the entire story on a regular basis, is another thing entirely. Missing luxuriates in its mayhem as it overpacks the plot. It’s narrative stuntwork and layered excess, like trying to keep plates spinning while setting the plates on fire and walking on a tightrope over a pool of sharks. On paper, the surprises read ludicrously, but Merrick and Johnson sell it, and the screenlife format is a big part of the reason why. Because everything we see is a simulated screen capture – mostly June’s Macbook – we are placed fully within her perspective. A certain distance between the viewer and the action is eliminated, and the overwhelming feelings she faces become that much more potent. There’s the fear of what’s happened to her mother, the sheer volume of information she’s trawling through, the false leads and the shock of each new development, and the pressure she faces as the story becomes a national sensation, with the reckless speculation of true crime obsessives on social media invading her psyche more effectively than the reporters camped out in the driveway ever could. Because that is the headspace that we’re placed in as viewers, even the most outwardly bizarre reveals never feel out of place. 

The movie knows what it’s doing in that respect, and Reid is good in the lead role, deftly navigating a performance with peculiar challenges. She has to anchor the film’s physical space as a performer, often while cropped into FaceTime squares in one corner of the screen, or making calls while dipping in and out of view of the webcam perspective she’s viewed through. But she remains a capable and singular presence all her own, even when it would be easy for her performance to get lost amid the action. If anything, the focus that Reid brings to the lead role is what keeps the movie centered when it otherwise loses sight of its own goals. The messy plotting often works within the confines of the format, but it’s clear that the movie has some broader arcs in mind – such as a critique of the true crime industry, and how June personally relates to the people around her as relations and allegiances seem to upend by the hour – that are only afforded glancing examinations before being dispatched for more Googling, WhatsApp chatting, password guessing, and plot twisting. But the core of the film, from the note-perfect visual emulation of each program and website used to the story’s own boundless energy, is so purely entertaining that even some untied loose ends it incurs, while powering toward a finale that (after nearly two hours) probably comes a bit too late, can’t really derail the well-polished showmanship that Missing offers.

Watch: Prime Video / DVD / Blu-ray