'Missing' review: Cyber thriller unravels an unpredictable mystery
Courtesy of Sony
In 2018, Aneesh Chagnaty’s thrifty “Searching” put a fresh, modern-day spin on the found footage subgenre of horror films. Instead of shaky cams and awkward first-person perspectives, “Searching” redefined the medium by telling a story through the lens of a computer monitor and I-phone screen. It followed a father (John Cho) using the internet (and all its tools) to locate his kidnapped daughter. It offered a refreshing change of pace where, unlike “Unfriended,” which unfolded entirely over Skype, “Searching” turned in scares for an involving mystery that had you guessing from beginning to end. Now comes “Missing,” told in the same format, and features another unpredictable puzzle where audiences feel like the detective piecing together clues and red herrings. Though occasionally limited by the medium, “Missing” still thrives on its unforeseeable circumstances and while it’s easy to question how we got from A to B retroactively, in the moment, it’s nothing short of riveting. Never has someone entering a Gmail password caused so much anxiety.
“Missing” centers around a stagnant daughter-mother relationship and one bonkers disappearance act as told through a MacBook homepage. The technology has considerably improved since the last time, (“Searching” didn’t have the benefit of using Go Ninja), and those who have mindlessly surfed various tabs might feel triggered at how legitimate it feels as June (Storm Reid) taps into every app available to track down her mother, Grace (Nia Long), who went missing after going on vacation with her boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung) in Columbia. Going full detective mode and utilizing every digital avenue, June ends up in a digital rabbit hole that opens a massive can of worms involving insane conspiracy theories, shady suspects, and even the United States embassy.
Co-writers and directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick are keenly in tune with how teenagers use their technology. In “Missing,” you’ll see numerous TikTok’s, Gmail homepages, Snapchat stories, FaceTime and WhatsApp calls, not to mention Venmo and Cash App transactions as constant alerts and text messages filter on screen while the thriller unravels in real time. Editors Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowski also deserve immense credit for sculpting this story from the hours of footage allotted to them.
But like “Searching,” “Missing” finds ways to be innovative and authentic without being tacky. Sure, the longer things drag on (the movie runs almost two hours) you can see the cracks of the storytelling, but the immersive format still works if the primary narrative keeps you guessing. And there were a great deal of shocks and gasps from this critic throughout the presentation which further proves, if the writing is rock solid and the sense of urgency exists, this can be a fruitful storytelling device that, for the time being, doesn’t need a reboot.
MISSING is now playing in theaters.