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Missing – Film Review

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missing film review

Missing is the second in the ‘-ing’ series of movies from the writer-producer duo of Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty. The first film was Searching, a movie which completely sidewinded us in 2018. We dismissed it as a zeitgeisty, gimmicky thriller, but it turned out to be one of our favourite movies of that year. 

While Searching had the benefit of surprise, Missing is more of a known quantity. It certainly doesn’t shift the form-factor that made Searching so unusual. This is a film told entirely through the lens of a computer screen, watching a civilian sleuth – this time The Last of Us’s Storm Reid – as she uses social media and other digital tools to find a missing person, in this case her mother. 

There’s no doubting that something is lost by trying to bottle lightning twice. If you are coming to Missing with the hope or expectation that it might subvert expectations of being a Searching sequel, spinning your assumptions around, then you will be disappointed. But if you fancy something as well-crafted and clever as the original Searching (which, by the way, has zero connection to Missing, so treat this as standalone), then Missing is everything you have been hunting for.

There’s a subtly clever start to Missing that’s about the only spoiler we would want to give. It starts with June (Storm Reid) planning a party for when her mum, Grace (Nia Long) is away on holiday with her new boyfriend. June reassures Grace that nothing is going to happen, swindles her out of some cash, and then plots the shindig. What makes this clever is that the evidence all points to June being the one in danger. She’s drunk and depressed – it’s the anniversary of her dad’s death – and her house is full of strangers. If anything ‘Missing’ is going to happen, it’s to her.

Insert a Family Fortunes-style nuh-uh here. It’s not June that’s in danger, it’s Grace. She and her partner miss their flight back to the USA from Colombia, and their stuff is still waiting in their hotel room. June rightly panics, and contacts the US embassy to get help. But when the embassy appears to be less than timely or competent, she takes matters into her own hands and employs some internet nous to find them.

There’s a couple of believability hurdles that you have to jump over at this point. First, there’s no reason why June would be on screen at all times. It’s a touch of poetic license that you can see her as a nested window among all the internet tabs and apps. You also have to accept that everything June touches turns to gold: she has an uncanny knack for finding exactly the right tool for the job at precisely the right time. There’s a lot of coincidence and contrivance that you might have to wave away and just accept. You’ll enjoy it more that way.

Jettison the cynicism, and things crack on at a hurtling pace. Barely a second is wasted as June finds a sidekick in Colombia (a brilliant touch that adds so much of the film’s emotional heart), before following the breadcrumbs that her mum left for her, and eventually punching you in the gut with its surprises. June constantly finds solutions to the questions she’s asking, but they are not the answers she expects, and they are a wrapper for so, so many other questions.

What I love most about this part of the film is that it assumes a certain amount of cleverness and attention from its audience. There’s no-one explaining the thought process of June, like Sherlock might in his Mind Palace. There’s no threading of the beads in this mystery: you are not being told that this piece of evidence means that this must be true. All you have is June’s hovering cursor as she lingers over text, or deletes and re-enters passwords in login forms. It’s the best cursor-acting you will ever come across, as a story is told in the movement and hesitation of a tiny arrow.

There is also no shortage of revelations in the plotting. Some of them you will likely guess, mainly because no detail is left unexplained in Missing. When a character or evidence is neglected, you know full well that they are going to be important later. A kid leaves an iWatch at June’s party? You better believe it’s going to be important. We feel the tiniest sadness that there are few red herrings in Missing. It’s too efficient for its own good.

Some twists, though, just aren’t guessable. At least, we didn’t guess them. It manages to preserve the sanctity of its WTF moments, and there’s huge satisfaction in seeing the plot through the filter of new information. Often it means that June hits a complete dead-end, and then there’s joy in watching her reverse out of it.

There’s clearly a job for June as a detective, or – at least – a researcher, as she leverages the internet in some clever and simultaneously believable ways. We wonder whether these websites and internet services will age Missing (we’ve made a note to re-watch Searching to see if it already feels old), but the teenage detective uses gig workers and private messaging to get her culprit. At very few points did it feel unlikely or forced (aside from a dabble in the Dark Web and a pretend CNN broadcast, which made us scoff), and most of the time we could imagine real police forces using these tools or taking notes from them.

You could argue that Missing is gimmicky. On paper it certainly sounds uncinematic. But we found that it removed some of the fluff that you get in detective thrillers, rather than added to it. It’s a direct line into June’s thought process, and that makes it intravenous. Nothing gets in the way of the barrelling narrative and twists.

Missing isn’t going to change the minds of anyone who was left cold by Searching. But if you were worried that it would be a redundant sequel, a retread of the first film’s charms, then we would like to change your minds instead. 

Missing is just as much of a rollercoaster as Searching, but the twists and loop-the-loops are faster, in vastly different places, and the result is an equal shot of adrenaline. We’re aware that it’s such an obvious way to finish the review, but it has to be said: you can’t afford to miss this movie.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Inordinately clever
  • Keeps you following its breadcrumb trail
  • Diverges from Searching at the halfway mark
  • Strong acting throughout
Cons:
  • Some twists are more predictable
  • A few leaps of believability
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 50mins | 2023
  • To rent/buy - £3.49/£11.99 SD, £4.49/£13.99 HD, £7.99/£17.99 UHD
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Inordinately clever</li> <li>Keeps you following its breadcrumb trail</li> <li>Diverges from Searching at the halfway mark</li> <li>Strong acting throughout</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Some twists are more predictable</li> <li>A few leaps of believability</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 50mins | 2023 <li>To rent/buy - £3.49/£11.99 SD, £4.49/£13.99 HD, £7.99/£17.99 UHD</li> </ul>Missing - Film Review
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