Missing is the latest thriller to bring up the double-edged sword that is technology, revealing how it can both connect us and allow us to craft entirely new lives.. And it’s one of the most well-constructed efforts to date – especially as it acts as a spiritual sequel to the first film that asked these questions. June (Storm Reid) often feels smothered by her mother Grace (Nia Long), so when Grace and her new boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung) jet off to a romantic getaway in Colombia, June decides to have a party.
Yet when it comes time to pick Grace and Kevin up from the airport, they never arrive. June frantically embarks on a search for her mother, utilizing every tool on her computer and iPhone to do so. But in the process, she learns that Grace may have been hiding secrets of her own. And those secrets are coming back with a vengeance…
Missing is the latest film to utilize the Screenlife format, which means it takes place exclusively throughout computer and cell phone screens. On the one hand, this is a very effective way to craft a thriller – there were several moments where I was on the edge of my seat due to the camera being posed in a way that shadows obscure nearly every part of the screen. On the other hand, it leads to an onslaught of websites that more or less hammer the viewer over the head with “This is how we paid for this movie.” I understand that product placement is a necessary evil for some movies, but there should be a limit to how much said products feature in the film. Or at the very least, they should be incorporated in a clever way.
Despite this, directors/writers Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick have actually crafted a compelling mystery, as well as compelling characters. As the film progresses, each new revelation unveils a new layer that calls previous scenes into question. And it also tests family bonds. How far would you go to get back the people you loved? How far would you go to protect them?
Eventually, Johnson and Merrick bring the film to a climax that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats. They manage this by slowly having the camera push in and/or pull away from screens, creating a foreboding sense of dread as you read what’s exactly on said screens. A score full of sharp, discordant notes courtesy of Julian Scherle only adds to the unease.
And despite most of the websites coming off as product placement, Johnson & Merrick do address how technology is used. A scene where June and her friend Veena (Megan Suri) manage to hack into Kevin’s account is a good example of this; it gets them a lead, but the officer handling her mother’s case correctly points out that this is illegal. And a faux Netflix series referenced throughout the film also shows how the true crime craze can strip away a lot of dimension and humanity from these types of situations. While the directors aren’t saying that all technology is evil – it actually plays a helpful role in the climax – they’re right to address the dangers inherent in this new digital age.
Missing‘s greatest strength is in its cast, particularly where Reid is concerned. At first, she plays June like any typical teenager: aching to have some independence and chafing at her mother’s rules. But as the film progresses, her aching over her deceased father and her worry over her missing mother come to the forefront, which gives the film its emotional core. Reid sells the hell out of these scenes, particularly when she’s arguing with a federal agent over the lack of response in her mother’s case. Not only does it feel achingly real – a Black woman struggling to get justice and denied at every turn is something I’ve seen happen far too often – but Reid’s performance conveys the depths of pain that June is feeling. Even though the conversation is taking place over a phone, the audience can feel the hurt and anger in her voice.
Missing is a tense and twisty thriller that looks at technology and how it can be used for good or ill. It’s also one of the best uses of the Screenlife format to date and should be a great example of how to use this technology in feature films. Take the thriller/true crime nut in your life to see it, or if you are the thriller/true crime nut, convince someone to go with you.