June Allen’s life is pretty mundane until her mother goes missing. Desperate for answers, she resolves herself to solve the mystery with nothing but her laptop and her mobile.
If moviegoers noticed some similarities between Missing (2023) and Searching (2018), there would be a good reason for that. 2010 marked the rise of films where the events are depicted on a computer or phone screen. This storytelling format has been applied to a number of films in recent years, with particular success amongst horror fans. Examples of such movies include classics like The Blair Witch Project (2010) and Unfriended (2014).
In 2018, Director Aneesh Chaganty gathered significant attention with Searching, a mystery thriller film that received positive reviews from critics. It managed to gross $75.5 million on a budget of just 880,000. The good reception gave rise to Missing, an anthology sequel directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson who were editors for the first film. And while Aneesh doesn’t direct Missing, he did co-write the script alongside fellow screenwriter Sev Ohanian. Missing found it’s way into theatres in January, making $45.1 million from its $7 million budget.
Both films follow a similar premise: a family member vanishes, and the protagonist solves their disappearance through various electronic devices. Searching follows single father David (John Cho) having to turn to the digital world to find his daughter (Michelle La). Missing isn’t a direct sequel to Searching. Still, there are hints (the protagonist watching a show based on the first movie) tying them together to create a shared universe.
Storm Reid, known for her work in Euphoria (2019) and The Last of Us (2023), portrays seventeen-year- old protagonist June Allen. Thanks to being able to see her screen, we get learn a lot about her life and background. She’s a smartass, internet-savvy girl who has trouble connecting with her mother, Grace (Nia Long), whilst mourning her deceased father. However, things in her life come to a head when Grace and her mum’s boyfriend (Ken Leung) disappear while holidaying in Colombia. June uses her laptop to try and locate her mother herself with help from her best friend (Megan Shuri) and a Colombian gig worker (Joaquim de Almeida). As June digs deeper, she learns she doesn’t know her mum’s boyfriend as well as she thought. Or her mum, either, for that matter.
Missing offers new perspectives through a tech-savvy June who relies on her internet devices for most of her everyday life. June’s entire journey can be conveyed through multiple types of screens, such as laptops, phones, smartwatches and video calls. On top of that, we get to see her use different kinds of programs for things such as private messaging and security cameras. This contrasts David, a working-class adult whose knowledge is mainly limited to what he needs for his job. He would need to call an IT guy to do what June does.
Storm Reid portrays June Allen as a relatable, sympathetic, feisty, and resourceful character. She does a great job acting out how someone her age would respond in such a situation. A different side of herself emerges to the audience when her mother disappears. She transitions from someone who took what she had for granted to someone who realises how much she now misses and what is now gone. Reid’s fear, regret and concern are all acted out convincingly. Even her mistake of leaving her webcam on can be tied to the stress of her situation.
Like its’ predecessor, Missing relies on plot twists in order to keep the audience engaged with the story. This is one of the film’s greatest strengths; the whole story filled with one surprise after the other. Anyone watching will not be certain of how the story will unfold, further adding to the sense of tension. However, while this is a strong suit, the film can also be perceived as being too reliant on them. To keep the audience’s interest, each turn has higher stakes and meaning than the last. This continues throughout the film until it comes off as being somewhat dubious.
Overall, Missing is a splendid, thought-provoking thriller. The film tells its own story, even with its similarities to Searching, leaving the door open for future instalments. Reid nails it as a relatable, intelligent June leading the film forward. Despite the movie’s strengths, the number of plot twists does become a little far-fetched after a while, detracting from the film’s sense of realism. Missing may not set the bar high enough to stand above Searching, but it still makes for an immensely engaging mystery that keeps audiences guessing, entertained and wanting more.
See the trailer below:
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