Missing Finds Its Success in the Details

Sony Pictures Releasing

To go along for the ride of Missing is to buy into its pseudo-found-footage gimmick. Like its unofficial but official predecessor, 2018’s Searching, all of Missing plays out on a computer screen. Instead of the parent searching desperately through their child’s computer to solve their mysterious disappearance, as in Searching, it’s the teen’s turn in Missing to find their parent. The teen in question, June (Storm Reid), is thrilled that her mother, Grace (Nia Long), is going on a romantic getaway with her fairly-new boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung). It’s the summer before college and June has an unsupervised week of partying to look forward to while Grace and Kevin relax in Colombia. Of course, things start to turn sour when Grace and Kevin don’t come home.

As with Searching, there is much more than meets the eye with Missing. The cast is filled with a colorful crew of secondary characters who aid in shifting suspicion and motive around to keep audiences engaged. There’s the TaskRabbit in Colombia, Javi (Joaquim de Almeida), who is unexpectedly pulled into this mystery when June hires him to check surveillance tapes. June’s best friend, Veena (Megan Suri), tries to parse the truth, while a nosy family friend of Grace’s (Amy Landecker) continues to interrupt their efforts.

June and Veena look at the laptop
Photo Credit: Temma Hankin – © 2021 CTMG, All Rights Reserved

The most exciting part of the film is how it twists itself from one possible outcome to another. Is Kevin a devious conman? Is there something in Grace’s past that could make her responsible? Why does Kevin keep visiting a house in middle-of-nowhere Nevada? Is the person who lives there somehow involved in this? Also, what is the green haze that’s accumulating over East Coast cities? All these questions, save for the last one, do get answered, which helps Missing stand out from other mystery films. Recent offerings in the mystery genre, such as See How They Run and both of Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptations, lack the breadcrumbs that audiences need. Missing’s case is actually solvable and possible if you’re paying attention.

The only question not answered, the one about the green haze, is a testament to the effort that went into building the world of Missing. The open tabs, text messages, bookmarks, etc., on June’s computer screen are as much set decoration as the posters on her wall. A person’s computer says an embarrassing amount about them without even really trying. You open Spotify and get a glimpse into a person’s moods, likes, favorites. The aforementioned green haze is the filmmaker’s nod to the alien invasion of Searching that played out silently through news chyrons and trending Twitter topics. It’s a delightful way to force the audience to look all around at the world they’re presented with. If Missing is boiled down to its barest bones, the audience is just watching someone click around on a computer screen for almost two hours. Yet filmmakers Nick Johnson and Will Merrick have managed to make this two-dimensional screen a vibrant playground. The laptop, with all of its hidden messages, is a character in its own right, and the filmmakers treat it as such.

June on the phone, looking concerned
Photo Credit: Temma Hankin – © 2021 CTMG, All Rights Reserved

As the story of Grace’s disappearance spreads, social media sites like TikTok and YouTube get involved. This works twofold for the film. On the one hand, it gives the filmmakers the option to mix up the shots (staring at the same FaceTime window could get tiring). On the other hand, Missing can lightly allude to the true-crime heyday we’re living through and the problem with so-called “internet sleuths.” True Crime has become a genre of its own, with very little regard for the real people whose lives and tragedies are being put on full display. Their suffering is now a commodity. People tear through social media as though it’s the latest hit tv show or movie, except there are real stakes involved. Making a TikTok video dissecting the body language of a person you’ve decided is a suspect in an ongoing murder investigation can do real damage. The trauma of strangers is not content. It would have been nice to see Missing take a stronger stance on the commodification of true crime and social media’s part in it all.

For some, the genre of found footage can be quite exhausting. Most films of that style spend so much time in situations with poor lighting and a shaky camera that the audience can give up trying to piece it all together. Missing is one of the best examples of how to stretch this genre into something compelling without having to hide the cards. Missing shows the audience its entire hand and still manages to keep the aspect of realism that’s essential to found-footage films. It’s a twisty rollercoaster of a mystery that gives way to pure sincerity. Missing is a time capsule of our modern digital age that proves the love between a mother and a daughter is fierce, confusing, and timeless.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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