Directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson — Screenplay by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson.
The filmmaking medium is constantly in a state of development and reinvention with artists seeking to find new ways to tell audiovisual stories. The found-footage genre was a huge trend that still pops up every now and again nowadays, and the latest found-footage-esque trend is the screenlife, or screencast, genre where the entire story is told by showing computer screens, smartphone screens, or the like. The Unfriended films are solid horror examples of this (as is Rob Savage’s Host, a terrific COVID-set horror film about Zoom video calls), and Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching starring John Cho is probably the best film of its kind. Searching followed a scared father searching for his missing daughter. The editors of Searching Nick Johnson and Will Merrick have ‘graduated’ and now serve as directors of its ‘standalone sequel’ titled Missing. On the whole, Missing is a really solid feature directorial debut, but it also feels really familiar and isn’t quite as good as the film it is following up on.
Johnson and Merrick’s Missing follows June Allen (played by Storm Reid), a teenager who is frustrated with her mother and her new romantic relationship. When June goes to pick up her mother and her mother’s boyfriend at the airport following their vacation to Colombia, the couple never shows up. Although she initially gets ahold of the proper authorities, she decides to start investigating the case herself using a variety of digital tools, including hiring a Colombian gig worker (played by Joaquim de Almeida) who tries to track down June’s mother outside of the States.
Missing follows pretty closely in the footsteps of the film it is technically a sequel to, and it does so almost to a fault. At least that’s how it feels at first. There are several plot beats that feel undeniably familiar, and, indeed, the premise is almost identical to that of Searching just with the roles of the parent and the child having been reversed — since here it’s the daughter searching for the missing parent. But, of course, this key reversal does change some things, as the younger main character is instantly more technologically savvy. And it is in the ways that this film invents new ways for its lead to investigate the case that keeps it fresh. There’s a pretty neat sequence where we see the action from the perspective of an Apple Watch, which I thought was inventive, but, for me, the most interesting new development is in how it makes use of Google Translate and an on-the-ground gig worker to have this plot take place in both America and Colombia. There are other cool little techniques such as the computer screen flashback.
Storm Reid makes for an excellent lead. Like John Cho, she is fully convincing as the desperate and driven family member willing to do anything. The film’s plot keeps on inventing more and more twists and one-upping itself over and over again, and she’s believable and strong throughout it. I’m not sure that’s equally true for the film itself. Because from time to time this constant act of one-upping itself stretches credulity, and, on top of that, it becomes somewhat exhausting. This is partly because notable plot developments are telegraphed too clearly and because some of its red herrings feel somewhat obvious.
In spite of how modern the film is, Johnson and Merrick’s Missing ultimately doesn’t feel as fresh as the previous hits that have made this gimmicky modern genre so popular (including Searching). But even though its overwhelming twists aren’t all entirely convincing or believable, the film is nevertheless riveting from start to finish. I’m not sure the ultimate revelation works all that well, but, on the whole, the film does.
7 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.