Review: Missing Revisits a Clever Format and Delivers a Solid Detective Story

In 2018, writer Sev Ohanian and writer/director Aneesh Chaganty released a unique and tension-filled missing-person mystery calling Searching that features a story told entirely on screens—as in computer and phone screens, with multiple windows open, while a father (John Cho) looked frantically for his missing daughter using only the resources available to him online. Having moved fully over to executive producer roles, the filmmakers (who also get a story credit) have made Missing using their editors from Searching, Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, as writers/directors of a story about a teenage girl named June (Storm Reid) whose mother Grace (Nia Long) goes missing while on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung).

The concept is basically the same: June is mostly housebound while mom is gone, which doesn’t stop her from throwing a party, hanging out with her friends, and breaking all the rules. The only assignment her mother gave her was to pick her up at the airport upon her return, and she almost manages to botch that, but not quite, considering her mother never returns from the trip. June tracks her mother’s vacation hijinks through her social media posts, but other than that, she has no clue where Grace has gone.

From this point, Missing becomes a solid amateur detective story, with June hacking her mother’s accounts, Kevin’s accounts, and searching through live feeds of tourist spots in Colombia. She also manages to enlist the help of a Colombian TaskRabbit helper named Javi (the great Joaquim de Almeida) to do a little field work for her, and he ends up becoming a much greater asset than she could ever have anticipated. As June continues digging, she gets advice from her mom’s best friend, an attorney named Heather (Amy Landecker), and an FBI agent (Daniel Henney), who are always telling June to let them handle the investigation, which of course she never does. During the course of the film, we also learn that June lost her father when she was very young, and so the idea of being without a parent when she’s still not yet an adult is terrifying to her, justifying her extreme investigative measures.

But it turns out that June is her own best clue finder, and from a screenwriting perspective, some of the ways she digs up hints about people’s whereabouts is impressive and clever. But like in Searching, by sticking to the screens-only visual style, the Missing filmmakers get stuck at times becoming a slave to their own unique storytelling device. There’s a final showdown in what is basically a cabin in the woods, which just happens to be completely wired with cameras so that we don’t miss a second of the fairly scary stuff that’s going on. Being trapped in this format takes us out of the movie a bit, but it leads to a very funny bit at the end of the film that harkens back to a popular (fictional) true crime doc series on Netflix. 

Even with the somewhat janky climax, Missing is still a genuinely engaging and tightly wound thriller that makes the most of its aesthetics, new technology (including a smart watch), and a solid cast. I also really liked the way the film tracks the social media and news outlet responses to Grace’s disappearance. We suspect characters of bad things (including Grace), only to be proven wrong as soon as we think we’ve got it figured out, and in that way, the film kept me guessing almost to the end. I might be up for one more film done in this style by this creative team before they move on to other projects, but this one gets it right and elevates the crop of mostly junky new releases we’re getting right now.

The film opens Friday in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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