Directed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick.
Starring Storm Reid, Joaquim de Almeida, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, Nia Long, Megan Suri, Tim Griffin, Thomas Barbusca, Tracy Vilar, Lauren B. Mosley, Sharar Ali-Speakes, Jameel Shivji, and Ava Zaria Lee.
When her mother disappears while on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend, June uses all the latest technology to search for answers
There is a five-year gap between Missing and Searching (a spiritual successor with the same revolutionary mines attached in key filmmaking roles), thrillers taking place solely on technology screams (computers, phones, hidden cameras, security footage, etc..) In that span of time, it feels as if true crime stories, in general, have further skyrocketed in popularity. In particular, Netflix has jumped all over the genre with numerous stranger-than-fiction documentaries that oftentimes feel impossible to believe (think Tiger King, The Tinder Swindler, and more.)
First-time directors and screenwriters Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick (the former served as the editor for Searching, bringing that same brilliant creativity to the proceedings here, even if the originality factor has worn off) are aware of this and even seem to have an axe to grind against how shallow and exploitative some of those projects sometimes turn out. It’s also hard to blame them, considering many documentaries are fixated on the unpredictably crazy reveals and exploitation rather than the emotions and lives of the real people affected. They are indeed wildly entertaining and compulsively watchable, even if one doesn’t get much other than the insane plot beats and social currency to be part of equally superficial conversations and memes.
That dichotomy is on the minds of Searching story conceivers Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty, but at times, Missing loses sight of the emotionally raw human elements that supercharged the former as much more than something new, but a uniquely riveting and ingenious thriller. Sometimes the film gets so lost in its twists that it could be argued it’s betraying some touching character-driven notes.
Early on is a sequence where 18-year-old June (a gripping Storm Reid who is also fantastic in HBO’s upcoming adaptation of The Last of Us) is using technology to uncover the mysterious disappearance of her mom Grace (Nia Long) and her newish boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) following a vacation to Columbia (fear not, this isn’t a xenophobic cautionary tale about traveling to other countries), finds herself cracking into the dating app the two met on, searching for information on how much she can trust this possibly sketchy romantic partner. It’s a beautifully moving moment where a teenager still grieving the death of her father from when she was a baby, discovers that the current love her mother has is genuine while also coming away with a greater understanding of how much she is thought about and loved for who she is and what she has been going through.
Without spoiling much, that’s undone by one swerve. However, there is also something boldly thought-provoking in how, as the case becomes more muddled, a stranger in Columbia June contacts (Joaquim de Almeida) through a handyman service (she transfers money to him for checking out locations to do some digging the police won’t do) might be her most trustworthy asset. Even June’s closest friend is somewhat turned against her by the media establishing that her mom has a secret to hide. This also ties into the idea that Netflix true crime, for as entertaining as it is, rots are brains and tricks us into asking the wrong questions while also giving misguided confidence that we can all be detectives or live stream on social media soapboxes propagating absurd theories.
In basic structure, Missing is also a successful role reversal from Searching, this time from the perspective of a teenager uncovering the past and details hidden from her. The film doesn’t reach the same emotional heights, and while I appreciate what the third act is going for (it’s both predictably obvious and a clever riff on what came before), the execution is more schlocky than substantially rewarding.
Still, this is a relatively new subgenre, so even when covering familiar ground, Missing feels fresh and slanted toward covering different technology areas. Most importantly, it’s a blast, even if it’s questionable whether it all comes together thematically.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com