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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Missing: Review

When her mother, Grace, suddenly disappears during a vacation trip, June takes matters into her own hands by piecing together the mystery through an investigative internet deep dive in Missing.

As a follow-up to the 2018 hit Searching, Missing continues the trend of whisking audiences into the perspective of our commonplace phone and smart device screens. The filmmaking approach, better known as Screenlife, is a fascinating stylistic experiment. Efforts like Unfriended, The Host, and Profile extract palpable tensions by trapping viewers in the claustrophobic confines of LED-lit screens. When effectively executed, Screenlife narratives boast an uncanny ability to distort and ultimately reflect upon our habitual relationships with smart devices.

I'll be honest - I wasn't a fan of Searching upon its release. The fan-favorite Sundance Film Festival title showcased an ingenious mystery hook and a captivating performance from star John Cho. Unfortunately, neither element compensated for a tonally wayward feature that jockeyed between moments of grounded realism and implausible shlock. The juxtaposing sensibilities ultimately floundered at conjuring a nerve-wracking true crime yarn despite boasting sincere intentions.

To my surprise, Missing captures the pulse-pounding kineticism that Searching sorely lacked. This confident and technically refined sequel delivers the goods in its pursuit of taut escapism.

Missing benefits greatly from forming a more cohesive identity. Where Searching occasionally strived for real-world gravitas, Missing drops all pretenses of realism in favor of a narrative bursting with outlandish twists and turns.

Screenwriters Will Merrick and Nicholas Johnson cleverly create the big-screen equivalent of a page-turning novel - an engrossing series of "what just happened" moments that constantly keeps viewers second-guessing their expectations. I appreciate the endless imagination and fearless risk-taking featured throughout Merrick and Johnson's rousing whodunit. Even if the story lacks meaningful textures, connecting all the pieces of this carefully composed puzzle becomes an intoxicating experience.

Merrick and Johnson also enhance the film's stylistic vision. Searching equipped the Screenlife pastiche as an earnest medium for concocting big-screen thrills on a small budget, but the financial restrictions were apparent throughout the final product. Chase scenes occurring strictly through google maps and other technology-based shortcuts burdened the intended suspense of significant plot beats rather than genuinely enhancing these frames.

With Missing, the Screenlife techniques are imbued with much more dynamism. The inclusion of swooping aerial shots and resourceful inclusions of smart technology cameras infuse lively energy throughout the production. Both directors execute a finite balancing act of maintaining the original's intimate visual style while also imprinting a palpable verve to drive the mystery forward.

Missing is ridiculous and inconsequential at points, yet the talents of its well-rounded ensemble consistently elevate the material. Emerging actress Storm Reid delivers a transfixing performance as our protagonist June. As the character undergoes a roller coaster ride of emotions, Reid expressively captures June as a precocious teenager with remarkable personability and intelligence. In addition, Nia Long and her radiant affection help make Grace a compelling presence despite her limited screen time. She and Reid form a lived-in pair as a mother and daughter disconnected from one another. Supporting players Ken Leung and Joaquim de Almeida also leave a strong impact as enigmatic figures in June's search for answers.

I had a blast throughout Missing - it's a spry and self-aware thrill ride that begs to be experienced with a reactionary audience. I will be curious to see how a potential third entry in the franchise can continue to improve upon the Screenlife concept.

Missing is now playing in theaters nationwide.


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