I went into the new tech thriller “Missing” without doing any research whatsoever. What little I knew came from one trailer and a TV spot. From that small sample, I immediately likened “Missing” to a spiritual successor to the 2018 film “Searching”. The similarities were impossible to miss. So I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to learn this is indeed a standalone sequel to “Searching”. The more you know…
“Missing” marks the directorial debut for Nick Johnson and Will Merrick. It’s written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, the duo behind “Searching”. Both films share a similar DNA. That is, their stories are told entirely through technology – phone calls, text messages, FaceTime, home movies, security cameras, web browsers, search engines, social media, etc. It’s quite the undertaking.
Remarkably, Johnson and Merrick (along with their superb editors, Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowski) piece it all into a taut fast-paced virtual mystery that kept me glued to the screen. Woven into its genre movie fabric are themes of emptiness, regret, coping with loss, and mother/daughter relationships among other things. The movie doesn’t dig too deep into them, but the filmmakers give us enough to earn our emotional investment. That proves to be vital and a key reason why “Missing” isn’t just a “Searching” knockoff.
A really good Storm Reid plays June Allen, a rebellious 18-year-old who lives with her mother Grace (an equally good Nia Long). Life has been tough for June since losing her father to a brain tumor, and her grief has taken a toll on her relationship with her mom. As a result Grace and June have moved from San Antonio to Van Nuys, California in hopes of making a fresh start. Unfortunately, despite Grace’s best efforts, the tension between them has only gotten worse since going to the West Coast.
Lonely and needing some time away, Grace takes a trip to Columbia with her boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung). But when June goes to LAX a few days later to pick them up, they never get off their plane. June immediately starts trying to reach her mom, but neither she or Kevin answer their phone. She finds even more disturbing news when she calls the hotel in Columbia and discovers all of their luggage is still there. June knows something’s wrong, but what do you when you’re 1500 miles away and in another country?
Desperate and worried, June seeks help. But her search for answers is quickly slowed in a mire of government red tape. So using her own technological know-how, she does some cyber-sleuthing in hopes of piecing together what has happened to her mother. As the mystery unfolds, June is assisted along the way by a handful of characters including her mom’s lawyer friend Heather (Amy Landecker), FBI Agent Elijah Park (Daniel Henney), and Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), a low-rent TaskRabbit investigator on the ground in Columbia.
There turns out to be a lot of moving parts, and they fit together pretty well. Meanwhile the story zips along at such a pace that we rarely have much time to sit and think, which is probably a good thing. And to keep things brewing, Chaganty and Ohanian throw several fun twists our way, especially early on. But the later twists push things a little too far. That’s when the story goes a bit bonkers and the tension moves from organic to more programmed.
At the same time, “Missing” has several small touches that land well. Take the tender moments where June watches an old video of her father (Reid sells them well). Or when the movie takes some funny jabs (and a few barbed ones) at today’s social media and internet culture. But the film’s biggest strength is found in its keen ability to keep its audience hooked on every virtual detail. Combined with the strong performances and creative premise, it makes for a kinetic ride that’s every bit as absorbing as it is silly. “Missing” opens in theaters today.