Familial bond missing from new thriller
'Missing' lacks something from 'Searching' predecessor
A spiritual sequel, of sorts, to 2018’s Searching, the new thriller Missing stars Storm Reid as June Allen, a bright but troubled teen who has butted heads with her mom, Grace (Nia Long), since her dad passed years prior. Naturally, she doesn’t take to Grace’s new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung), although the pair of them going on a trip to Columbia frees her up to throw parties all week before picking them up from LAX upon their return.
But when June goes to the airport, her mom and boyfriend are nowhere to be found after their returning flight arrives. After several unsuccessful phone and Facetime calls, she heads home and begins an investigation of her own after a missing persons report gets stalled by international red tape.
Like Searching, Missing is a part of the burgeoning screenlife genre, a category of films in which all the events take place on some sort of screen, including those belonging to a computer, smartphone, or tablet. June has her MacBook’s camera on during the majority of her digital sleuthing, so we’re able to see her reactions in real time as new clues and bits of information are revealed. Where its predecessor’s protagonist was a somewhat tech-literate dad looking for his daughter, Missing’s main character is a Gen-Z whiz kid who has just barely been around longer than the invention of the iPhone. That means the pace of her virtual snooping is much more brisk, with apps and windows opening and closing fast enough to make one’s head spin. But like any good mystery, the thrill is in trying to keep up with the hero’s thought process as she pieces everything together.
Though Missing’s story comes from Searching’s writer-director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, it’s that film’s editors, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, who are the credited co-writers and co-directors this time out. That would help explain the swiftness of the narrative but also the dynamic progressions that the duo use when tying certain effects elements together. A montage of June’s week home alone incorporates some clever visual transitions, like the transport bar on a Spotify stream morphing into a guidance arrow on a set of Google Maps directions, that help bring home how ubiquitous these apps are to our daily functioning. Those of us who aren’t as reliant on screens may get lost in the shuffle here, but to their credit, Johnson and Merrick do their best to try to keep the technophobes in the audience apprised of the story’s developments.
While Missing has all the fun twists and turns that one would expect from a Searching successor, the actual mystery isn’t quite as tight and the family drama isn’t quite as compelling this time around. Since this is an international affair, the scope of search is much bigger from the outset and means that certain contrivances have to be conceived to whittle down the possibilities for our main character.
For instance, there’s a loophole involving the security footage at the Colombian hotel where June’s mom was staying that makes absolutely no sense and only exists so that June has to find another way around. When the (sometimes far-fetched) answers begin to fall into place during the third act, it’s probably best not to scrutinize plot points from the previous two acts.
But putting aside the detective elements of the plot, the familial aspects of Missing just aren’t as potent as they were in Searching. While it’s easy to be engaged in a daughter looking for her lost mother, this movie doesn’t pack the same punch of pathos that you get with a story of a father looking for his missing daughter. Reid is a talented young actress, but John Cho as the first film’s beleaguered protagonist was extraordinary in what was pretty much a one-person show. Reid has more scene partners by comparison, like a trusty friend played by Megan Suri and a Columbian freelancer played by Joaquim de Almeida, but even with their help, there just isn’t as potent an emotional throughline this time.
Missing is missing some of the novelty and innovation that made Searching such a resounding success, but it’s still a worthwhile entry in a film genre that will likely only get more popular as technology continues to weave its way into our lives.
New movies coming this weekend
Coming to theaters is Fear, a horror film starring Joseph Sikora and Andrew Bachelor about a weekend vacation that turns sinister when a contagious airborne threat forces a group of friends to each confront their worst fears.
Also playing only in theaters is Infinity Pool, a sci-fi horror movie starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth following a couple who are enjoying an all-inclusive beach vacation until a fatal accident exposes a perverse subculture lurking within the resort.
Streaming on Amazon Prime is Shotgun Wedding, a romantic action comedy starring Jennifer Lopez and Josh Duhamel depicting a couple’s extravagant destination wedding as it unexpectedly becomes hijacked by criminals.