A daughter scours the net in search of her mother, who vanished while on vacation in Colombia, in Missing, a surprisingly taut and effective thriller that opens in Prague cinemas this weekend after debuting stateside last month. Fast-paced and wholly engrossing, only a conventional finale keeps this one from truly soaring.
Missing is a sequel-of-sorts to the 2018 film Searching, and the latest in a series of screenlife films, which take place entirely on Skype, Whatsapp, FaceTime and other windows in a computer screen. Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov, who popularized the genre with 2014’s Unfriended, serves as a producer here.
Like found footage, these movies typically come off as gimmicky, with the narrative often coming up with laborious reasons for a computer screen to be present and recording at all times. But until its finale, Missing completely transcends the genre, and we’re so hooked on the investigation that we forget we’re watching everything unfold on a computer.
Part of that is because we can truly identify with June, played by Storm Reid. When her mother Grace (Nia Long) fails to return from a trip to Colombia, there’s little she can do besides call the police, foreign embassy, and scour the internet for potential clues to her whereabouts.
That includes some amateur hacking, with June phishing for passwords to get into the accounts of mom’s new boyfriend Kevin, played by Ken Leung. She traces their steps on Google Maps, digs into the messages they left for each other on an online dating platform, and follows their potential movements on live webcams in tourist hotspots.
In Missing’s most affecting subplot, June hires a courier from GoNinja (the film’s version of TaskRabbit) on the ground in Colombia to help her locate mom. Javi (Joaquim de Almeida) is the cheapest courier on the platform, but quickly identifies with June’s cause and agrees to help her track down a series of leads… and serves as a father figure during a difficult time.
While it initially seems like a standard abduction case, Missing is at its most interesting when raising red flags about Grace’s past, as June, friend Veena (Megan Suri) and FBI Agent Park (Daniel Henney) uncover secrets that suggest mom may have been in on the plot. But even as these questions go public, with amateur YouTube detectives weighing in, June doesn’t lose hope.
At the 90-minute mark, Missing is an edge-of-your-seat thriller that is one satisfying twist away from being a classic beyond the screenlife genre. But the film takes a nosedive when June takes her search offline, and culminates with a one-two-three knockout that punches the film down to merely good.
Missing’s climax finishes off a great thriller with: poor decisions made by the central characters; improbable filmmaking techniques to maintain the genre gimmick; and a left-field conclusion that makes zero sense, retroactively, from the perspective of the perpetrator.
Still, a disappointing conclusion doesn’t completely sink the film. Missing is just as good as Searching, from the same writer-directors (Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick), and hints at better things to come from both the filmmakers and the genre. Playing online detective has never been this fun.