By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
It would be easy to dismiss a film like Missing as a gimmick. Captured entirely on iPhones, GoPro cameras, webcams, security footage, news reels, and screens, Missing isn’t necessarily doing something original given the precedent set forth by the likes of Unfriended and its spiritual predecessor Searching. What was once a novel concept for a delivery system for a story could come across like a stunt now, but, in the capable hands of directors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick (in their directorial debuts), Missing is so much more than just another computer screen motion picture.
Missing follows teenager June, played by Storm Reid (Euphoria, The Suicide Squad), whose mother and new boyfriend mysteriously disappear while on vacation in Columbia. Finding herself thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, June becomes determined to finding her mom by using the internet, social media, and other online means at her disposal.
Using its unique storytelling system to its advantage in so many unique ways, Missing is a tense, suspenseful, and stylish thriller with a new and unexpected twist or turn around every corner. Although the computer screen format of the film is interesting, the film simply would not have had much staying power if it wasn’t for the powerful mystery at the core of its story. This mystery that unfolds is riveting to say the least, captivating from the get-go and remaining puzzling until the film’s unpredictable final act. Writers and directors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick capture the perfect pacing for a high intensity thrill ride that demands theatrical viewing among a large and excitable crowd. Missing never overwhelms with the unexpected routes its story takes, but, rather, keeps its audience on the edge of its seat as each successive scene proves more unpredictable than the last. The mystery is so strong, in fact, that its inevitable, during the film’s runtime, that one will question how all of the different clues, plot threads, and characters will be resolved in a satisfying manner. And, ultimately, Missing‘s core mystery doesn’t entirely come together when all its secrets are revealed. Some plot threads left unexplained require quite a bit of inference from the audience, while implausibilities in the plot and character motivation require a leap of faith. The film doesn’t miss its landing per se, but a defter hand may have concluded the story in smoother, more cohesive fashion. Nonetheless, the journey to get to the unfolding of these mysteries is so enthralling that one can forgive some of the finale’s missteps.
Already an impressive mystery thriller, Missing is elevated by the impressive application of its storytelling advice. The entire film plays out on screens and only rarely stretches that premise to capture all of the necessary events in the film. This device also lends a contemporary feel to the movie, portraying how one would go about solving a timely mystery like this from a remote location and limited to the technology at their disposal. June, the lead character played by Storm Reid, recruits a Columbian man named Javi (played by Joaquim de Almeida in an excellent supporting performance) to investigate some clues in the country her mother went missing, and scenes between June and Javi provide some of the film’s more memorable and witty dialogue. The filmmakers also use the computer screen storytelling device to deliver a number of genuinely good laughs (who hasn’t struggled to select all the squares correctly in a ‘I am not a Robot’ captcha).
Anchoring the film from beginning to end is Storm Reid, who puts in a compelling and believable performance as a young woman striving for independence from her somewhat overbearing mother. Nia Long plays the mother who goes missing, while Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida delivers a scene-stealing performance as Javi, a man June hires to investigate her mother’s disappearance in Columbia (for $8 an hour).
It’s inevitable that Missing will be compared to Searching, the spiritual predecessor to Missing that is fleetingly referencing in the new movie. Missing doesn’t pack the emotional punch of the John Cho-led film, which was tear-inducing within the first few minutes of its runtime. And, while the mystery in Searching concludes in a more logical manner, Missing proves far more unpredictable of a movie from start to finish.
Missing is the latest installment in the computer screen subgenre of thrillers, following the likes of Unfriended and Searching. Never coming across as a gimmick, the new film from writer/director team Will Merrick and Nick Johnson uses its screen format as an innovative storytelling medium and a source of genuine humor. Despite a level of implausibility in how some plot threads are addressed, the mystery at the core of the film is as enthralling and unpredictable, making it easy to overlook the leap of faith required for some of the film’s more lofty twists. Missing is a must-see thriller film, and one that will be enhanced with a theatrical audience to share the twists and turns with.