Back in 2018, I said that the thriller Searching was one of the best movies of the year and I stand by that statement. The film is probably the best example of the recent screenlife trend of movies, where all of the action is done on computer or phone screens such as in Unfriended or Host. It effectively uses the technology/gimmick and manages to tell a convincing thriller that makes you feel a part of the action, wondering if John Cho’s character would be able to find his missing daughter. Due to its modest success, I shouldn’t be surprised that the film got a sequel in the form of Missing, but I’m not complaining.
Reuniting a lot of the production crew from the first movie, Missing firmly establishes that this franchise is going to be an anthology series with each new installment featuring new characters and new scenarios tied together by the screenlife premise. I’m definitely not opposed to the concept, especially if the results can be as good as Searching was, and Missing hits a lot of the same beats as the previous film. Outside of a bit of an ending that is noticeably weaker, because both of these films hit a lot of the same beats, it mostly comes down to personal preference on which one is better. Personally, I tend to think that Searching is the superior film.
Watch this video on YouTube
Director: Will Merrick, Nick Johnson
Release Date: January 20, 2023
June (Storm Reid) and her mother Grace (Nia Long) don’t really get along. Ever since her father (Tim Griffin) died, she’s become more distant and aggressive towards her mother way beyond any normal rebellious teenager. Grace and her current boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), go to Colombia for a week and leave June home alone, but when it comes time for June to pick them up at the airport, they never show up. Days go by and there’s no news whatsoever about where they are and what happened to them. June gets help from the police and from a helpful gig worker in Columbia named Javier (Joaquim de Almeida) in order to figure out what happened to them. The more she looks into it though, mystery after mystery about her mother and Kevin begin to appear which causes her to question everything she knew about them.
Throughout most of the film, I couldn’t help but feel that Missing was just playing a lot of the same beats that made Searching such a success, only slightly remixing them. Instead of having a parent search for their missing child, the roles are reversed. There are scenes where our protagonist has to find ways into a person’s Gmail account and they go about it in a very similar fashion. There’s a constant escalation of events that turns their stories into national news. It’s still functional and works well, but doesn’t have the same impact when you’ve seen this same story by the same people responsible for the first film.
Storm Reid does a solid job as our protagonist. She brings a lot of complex emotions to June and is able to sell them through what limited physicality we see from her. The way she conveys her emotions via her expressions when her mom books the vacation on Father’s Day is a nice touch, as well as a party scene early on that is done through multiple phone screens that show her social isolation and grief over the sudden death of her father. Her relationships with most of the cast also feel natural and well conveyed, with Missing spending a lot more of its runtime trying to have characters interact and have scenes with each other despite the physical distance between them. I really like the bond that she develops with Javier as she also helps him out with the relationship between him and his estranged son.
The film definitely ratchets up the tension and tries to make the mystery fairly complex to mixed results. As far as brainteasers go, it’s a fairly decent one with the twist being hidden in plain sight that makes perfect sense in hindsight. The issue is that once all of the secrets are revealed, Missing loses a lot of its appeal and instead becomes fairly generic in its climax. The film has nowhere else to go and decides to solve its problem with action that doesn’t really sync up with the rest of the film. Plus the last fifteen minutes are set in a single location that is conveyed through multiple different cameras which comes across as somewhat distracting and hard to follow. There are also several moments that are meant to be shocking peppered throughout the film, but instead, come off as somewhat confusing once they’re explained. It’s as if once the movie gives you an answer to a question, you have two other questions about the practicality and logic of it.
Despite that, the film still utilizes its screenlfie premise effectively. You can definitely tell that the movie wants to be more of a movie, utilizing zoom-ins and close-ups despite the fixed screen. Sometimes it works, like showing various screens simultaneously and cutting from one site to another, but other times it’s just hard to make out. I said before that it was nice to see the actors actually interacting with each other in the same room in certain scenes, but those scenes are conveyed as zoomed-in looks at tabs of a computer, complete with grainy filters and blurry bodies. It’s not as bad as other movies I’ve seen (God Skinamarink was guilty of this), but when it becomes difficult to actually see what’s happening, that’s where I draw the line.
As far as sequels go, there’s really not that much else to say about Missing. It repeats a lot of the same ideas that its predecessor did to diminishing results. The core is still solid as well as the concept and if you saw this movie in isolation from the first film you’ll probably enjoy it even more. But if you did see the original movie, it’s basically more of the same. This isn’t like with Glass Onion where you can make the case that the film is unique despite sharing the same themes and tackling a lot of the same topics. This is just a basic role reversal of the first film, which is okay, but if the third film just uses these same tricks again, then it’ll become apparent that the directors and writers here are one trick ponies with not much else to go on.