A spiritual sequel to 2018’s breakout hit Searching also set in the Screenlife format was an easy-sell concept for this viewer. The filmmaking technique requires an unparalleled attention to detail, and a care for every single bit of visual data that flies across the screen. Missing utilizes an impressive new skill set of trickery and fluid camera movements, all while keeping the action expressly occurring on a laptop screen. While it may not contain the same level of emotional connection as Searching, Missing makes up for that by relentlessly hurling twist after twist at the screen, and seeing what sticks. The good news is that Missing is so meticulously laid out in front of us that the answers are always hiding in plain sight, sure to reward careful watchers and repeat viewings.
Taking a page from Searching, the script from writers/directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick hits us with an emotional sucker-punch almost immediately. We open on home video footage dated April 2008, watching a video that is trimmed and dubbed “last family trip.” Little June plays with her father for what could be the very last time, just before a brain tumor appears to abruptly cut his life short. Now in modern day, June (Storm Reid) is firmly in “summer mode” before she has to leave for UC Davis, mainly by having an especially epic time with her bestie, Veena (Megan Suri), while her mom is away. June’s mother, Grace (Nia Long), and her annoying boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), are headed to Columbia, and Grace implores June to both erase her voicemails and keep her location tracking on just in case they need to get ahold of her.
The approach of father’s day seems to have June in bad spirits, and to make matters worse, Grace will be away with Kevin during this time. It is not difficult to see why June is so cold with her mother, returning her “I love you” with a simple thumbs up. Their strained relationship is key once the central mystery actually begins to unfold. On Monday, June heads to LAX to pick up Grace and Kevin—after waiting hours at the airport, there is clearly something amiss. The layers begin to unfold as more questions arise. June’s first instinct is to call the hotel to track down the couple, but they oddly seem to have left everything behind, luggage and all. Whoever checked them out is on camera doing so; however, actually obtaining the footage proves to be tricky indeed. On a system that deletes after 48 hours, the camera footage may be inaccessible unless June can speed up the process of a missing person abroad report.
Enter: the heart and soul of Missing, my personal favorite character, Javi (Joaquim de Almeida). In desperate need of a body to swing by the hotel and vouch for the footage, June continues tapping into the “emergency fund” her mom left behind by hiring a GoNinja employee for $8 an hour. June goes with the cheapest option, and Javi is much more than expected. His own complicated history with his son makes Javi immediately relate to June’s plight, and her ultimate commitment to track down her mother, no matter the cost. Could Grace be hiding secrets of her own? As June moves to hack into her mother’s accounts, she helplessly uses every piece of modern technology to help her try to discover Grace’s whereabouts from thousands of miles away in Los Angeles.
Spoiling anything beyond this point would feel almost criminal, considering that part of Missing’s fun is in the mystery angle. I must have uttered “WTF” at least five times, and judging by the crowd reactions at my theater, this will be a film that has people buzzing. Atmospheric and creepy, the only ideal stronger than the story is the depiction of the laptop and its impressive functionality. Trying to stay so much as a single step ahead of the writers here proves to be futile. They have so many bells and whistles, and the Screenlife format is sure to use every last one of them. Scenes are wonderfully framed, with zoom-ins and tracking shots and even the tiniest little details confidently putting out the best this medium has to offer.
A movie of this ilk is only as good as its ending—Missing understands this on a fundamental level. I actually felt satisfied; if Searching left tears welling up in one’s eyes, Missing will instead leave behind a contagious, feel-good smile. The filmmakers are sure to fill Missing with a plethora of wonderful easter eggs for fans of the previous installment. An Unsolved-Mysteries style reenactment can be seen multiples times, and those slick alien references are still hidden just beneath the surface. Plenty more possibilities doubtless beckon to come forth and payoff big time during repeat viewings. Enthralling twists and turns, intense horror-adjacent sequences, and an excellent lead performance from Storm Reid make Missing a must-see.
Missing begs to be found and deconstructed when the harrowing mystery thriller debuts exclusively in theaters on Friday, January 20th.