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Missing: A Nail-biting Screenlife Thriller

Storm Reid in Screen Gems MISSING

Missing preview screening provided by Sony Pictures

Missing understands the place of screen culture and its possibilities, and it cleverly depicts these possibilities through an appropriate subject while simultaneously delivering a gripping mystery ”

Unlike the unnerving depictions of handheld camera horrors from the best found-footage films —like Cloverfield (2008) and The Blair Witch Project (1999)— screenlife films find horror by looking back at the user through the everyday devices we use. Films like the Unfriended series are prime examples of this, but screens can also be a weapon for good as seen with Searching (2018) and its latest spiritual successor, Missing (2023).

Whereas Searching focused on a father with little screen savviness searching for his lost daughter, Missing flips the table by having a daughter who is a screen guru use her knowledge of all things social media and beyond, to locate her missing mother. It makes for a zany thriller that jumps between clicks and searches at a whim, but in a such a way that continues to build intrigue without ever stagnating.

Our protagonist, June (a commanding Storm Reid), is the anchor of Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick’s film, who is thrown into a confusing situation after her mother (Nia Long) and new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) go missing while on vacation in Colombia. Given time is running out to locate the pair as the hotel they were staying at deletes security footage every 48 hours, June, with laptop in hand, takes it upon herself to get to the bottom of what is going on.

It turns out a lot is going on, but June is the guiding force who helps us keep up with proceedings. Her understanding of the various bits and bobs of screenlife are where the momentum of the film lies as she hightails from Gmail to Instagram, live cameras in Colombian tourist spots to Colombia’s equivalent of Taskrabbit — where she hires a Colombian freelancer, Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), to run errands for her on the ground. This abruptness speaks to the rapidness of screen culture where everything happens so fast and attention spans are shorter than ever.

Storm Reid and Megan Sure in Screen Gems MISSING. Photo Credit: Temma Hankin

Storm Reid and Megan Sure in Screen Gems MISSING. Photo Credit: Temma Hankin

As a result, Missing is constantly moving with little to no respite. It throws plot twists almost every 15 minutes and keeps you on edge as it unravels with every new discovery June makes. Like John Cho in Searching, Storm Reid has little room to work with as she’s situated right in front of her laptop for the film’s majority and has to flex her facial muscles at any given chance to build that depth to her character. Make no mistake, she achieves this at a level of more seasoned actors and therefore the film never really gets stale.

It helps that Missing injects some light-heartedness within its more serious tone, namely through the relatability of going through arduous CAPTCHA puzzles and subtly emphasising the importance of two-factor authentication (after June accesses Kevin’s Gmail and subsequent accounts due to him having the same password for everything). Johnson and Merrick also incorporate some social commentary around the benefits of screen culture as a tool for pumping messages and information out quickly. At the same time, they also depict the negatives that come with the proliferation of clickbait and throwing real people with real problems under the bus for some clicks and views.

By the end, Missing loses some steam as plot threads are tied up, and the closing sequence is a bit on the nose namely because the delight of seeing June navigate the internet and its various facets is undercut by the suddenness of the ending. This is most likely the result of the film being too quick for its own good because any attempts to resolve these plot threads feels jarring and just not as interesting as the build-up.

But at the same time Missing understands the place of screen culture and its possibilities, and it cleverly depicts these possibilities through an appropriate subject while simultaneously delivering a gripping mystery. While it isn’t at the level of Gone Girl (2014) in its ability to develop deep character arcs within the mystery of it all, it’s at the very least a sign that screenlife films will only continue to hit our screens.

Missing opens nationally from the 23rd of February, 2023.


Arnel Duracak

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