Despite some not so great viewing experiences (as to be expected in January), 2023 has actually had some decent offerings for theater movie goers. Sure, the festival few get to relish in yet to be released offerings. But for those of us not in the club, January and February often leave us with a collection of duds until the real releases start. “Missing” is another example of films trying to change the January Dud perception, delivering a ton of thrills, twists, and turns that grip you and keep you guessing until its final moments. The month may be sitting at about a 50% success rate (or 60% depending on you feel about “Plane,” which I seem to be alone in how much I disliked it) but that is infinitely better than skipping the theater for two months like years prior. “Missing” is a solid anthology follow up that keeps you on the edge of your seat and utilizes all of its technology tools to deliver a thrilling, engaging new generation mystery.
Written and Directed by Nick Johnson and Will Merrick from a story by Sev Ohanian and Natalie Qasabian, “Missing” serves as an anthology sequel to 2018’s “Searching,” which similarly utilizes the technology of the day to tell the unraveling narrative. The sequel bears no connection to its predecessor other than existing in the same style and narrative framework. Both films seem to be actively trying to elevate a relatively new genre all on their own, and the craft and creativity of Johnson and Merrick certainly make good on their promise.
“Missing” follows June (Storm Reid) and her mother Grace Allen (Nia Long), who have a rather strained relationship fitting of any teenage daughter and single mother. Still reeling from the death of her father years later, June is left home alone after Grace and her new boyfriend Kevin take a romantic getaway to Colombia. After a few days of raging unsupervised, things go terribly wrong when June’s mom fails to arrive at the airport and seemingly disappears into thin air. With nothing but red tape obstacles from law enforcement, June takes it upon herself and her Gen Z knowledge of technology to unravel the mystery and find her mother. but the more answers she tries to find, the more questions arise, and nothing is as it seems with every new piece of information that gets uncovered.
What truly sells “Missing” is the clever use of technology to tell its story and the solid performance from Reid. The film asks a lot of its audience, and constantly rides the line between intrigue and implausibility. But Johnson and Merrick seem to be aware of how far fetched their elements get, and rather than strain it to the point of irrelevance, “Missing” sticks to its fast paced, rapid fire storytelling that never allows you to think about things for too long before it gives something else for the audience to chew on. It’s as clever as the technology itself; you can’t pick it apart if you don’t have time to sit with it for too long. This allows “Missing” to be constantly moving at a reckless pace, but also keep it from collapsing in on itself with ridiculousness. By its very nature and in less capable hands, the film could crumble under the slightest bit of scrutiny. It’s balance and pacing allows it to avoid those pitfalls, and It both exposes the dangers of a world that lives on the internet, while also pushing the limits of what that technology can do.
Storm Reid is a compelling protagonist, able to convey the emotional rollercoaster through web cams, chats, WhatsApp calls and more without ever feeling like she’s too far removed from us. She instantly gains our trust and empathy, and Reid’s June is hard not to root for all the way through her online sleuthing. “Missing” belongs to Reid, as everyone else is an extension of June through her technological search. We learn about every character we meet through June and her computer, be it through phone calls, apps, chat history, and archival footage. Though the film also stars Nia Long, Ken Leung, and Joaquim de Almeida (playing good guy TaskRabbit worker for once) they aren’t really given all that much to do outside of adding to June’s discoveries. “Missing” not only uses technology as a framing device to tell its story, but also as a character unto itself. June and technology are the lynchpins that drive everything, and Johnson and Merrick cleverly interweave these two strengths to deliver a truly gripping thriller.
Truthfully, “Missing” could be easily dismissed as another gimmicky internet flick, void of purpose and existing only to capitalize on the Gen Z audience. And while the film stretches the suspension of disbelief a little too far at times, it feels far more genuine than other attempts in the same style. “Missing” puts in the work to gain your interest in its main character and her relationships first, then uses the techno tricks second. It may be far fetched, but it’s so damn entertaining you’re willing to abandon your logic and realism and just let yourself be swept up in the mystery. “Missing” is well paced and well executed, and isn’t so concerned with being believable as much as it wants you to sit back and enjoy the ride.
I unfortunately missed “Searching” in 2018, and wrote it off as the gimmick many probably thought it was at the time, too. But from what I’ve heard, its’ better than its follow up “Missing,” which is saying a lot because I enjoyed the hell out of this anthology follow up. Looks like I’ve got some retro watching to do soon. I know January releases are often hit or miss, but “Missing” is the former, worth the price of admission and sure to satisfy cinephiles hoping to watch something new but good in a movie month that seldom has that to offer.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go delete every trace of myself on the internet so that these damn kids can’t find me through crafty google searches.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“Missing” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.