Missing Review: Quest for Sequel Extends Gimmick
In the latest Screenlife movie, Storm Reid plays a worried daughter trying to find her missing mother, played by Nia Long.
“Searching” wasn’t the first “Screenlife” film, a term coined by director and producer Timur Bekmambetov to describe the cinematic gambit of displaying all actions on different computer or smartphone screens, but it was the commercial one most successful. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, the 2018 mystery thriller about a distraught father played by the perennially underrated John Cho who searches for his missing daughter, grossed over $75 million and pretty much brought the visual storytelling style to life far ahead, moving between simulated screencasts and surveillance footage.
As impressive as the film’s commitment to truthfulness was at times, so was its reliance on montages of news footage and edited vlogs to compress time or convey narrative, as was its frustrating shifts between first-person and omniscient third-person POVs to bypass setting changes. However, Cho’s performance kept “Searching” in the background just enough emotional reality to drown out the film’s logical leaps and groaning twists and turns.
“Missing,” the standalone sequel to “Searching,” follows the “bigger is better” approach and features a story that spans two continents and multiple locations, with crazier, even more incredible twists than the first film. Written and directed by Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, co-editors of Searching, with a co-story credit from Chaganty, Missing changes the protagonist from concerned parent to distant, concerned daughter, played by Storm Reid of Euphoria “. .
After her mother Grace (Nia Long) and new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) fail to return from their vacation in Colombia, 18-year-old June (Reid), still haunted by her father’s death years ago, investigates her disappearance all the technology at its disposal. Though she has occasional assistance from the FBI and a lawyer friend, her main helpers are her best friend Veena (Megan Suri) and Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), an adorable Colombian freelancer who works for a fictional Taskrabbit-like company that helps June Floor. What begins as a chilling missing person case turns into something even more nightmarish as a litany of buried secrets surface.
©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection
It turns out that nobody is who they seem, not even the protective, loving Grace.
While “Searching” provided mild comedy and relatable confusion through John Cho’s Gen X character’s ignorance of certain aspects of modern social media or payment services such as Tumblr and Venmo, respectively, “Missing” features a tech-savvy zoomer whose knowledge of the internet accelerates film speed, at least initially. Before the myriad narrative complications arise, “Missing” captivates as June uses her ingenuity to find her mother creatively finding Kevin’s Gmail password, which helps her access all of his online accounts because he, well , he’s the kind of middle-aged guy who uses the same password for everything. “Missing” convincingly captures contemporary “screen life” whenever it emulates the speed and precision with which the younger generation moves between many online platforms.
Both Johnson and Merrick draw from the presentation of identifiable facets of contemporary internet use, such as the frustrating nature of CAPTCHA tests, or how FaceTime and Google Street View help to virtually reduce geographic distances for tracking or stalking purposes. (Is there any difference at all?)
Similarly, “Missing” also portrays the widespread normalization of the surveillance state, now brought to you by Ring home security systems, and the insidious influence of true crime on daily life, particularly how false theories about real-life people spread on Reddit and TikTok proliferate as if they were characters on a TV show. Johnson and Merrick come close to explicitly criticizing these issues, but pause and end up with, “Hey, that’s something you might recognize!”
Granted, the directors have so much storytelling to do on “Missing” that there probably won’t be much time to incorporate overt social commentary. While “Searching” had a few distractions and a big twist, “Missing” offers a reality-altering surprise about every 20-25 minutes. It’s often difficult to enjoy these revelations when they’re so predictable—there are only a limited number of characters in the film, and they’re all implicated in the conspiracy—or when they challenge even the most liberal suspension of disbelief. In order for them to make sense, the film’s formal medium is pushed to its limits (every house has a camera in every conceivable angle!) and the characters’ intelligence and social awareness must vary from scene to scene.
It’s also unintentionally funny when “Missing” is slowed down just enough to offer sober conversations designed to develop or resolve character arcs in what appears to be a time-sensitive situation. June scolds Javier about his relationship with his estranged son just as she is about to apprehend a possible culprit. There’s even time for June to have a little spit and tearful apology with her friend Veena when danger is literally knocking on the door.
The many conflicting developments in “Missing” make it difficult to sustain attention, especially considering the film gives viewers plenty of time to ponder the myriad ways it doesn’t make sense. Reid does a decent job of carrying the film on her back, but making it a legible viewing experience would be a difficult task even for a seasoned actor like Cho. “Missing” also feels awkward like advertising the utility of smartwatches and online marketplaces, let alone a virtual assistant.
It’s not unreasonable to conclude from “Missing” that the best thing you can do is ask Siri for help when you’re stuck in a life-threatening traffic jam. After all, she’s always there.
Missing opens Friday, January 20th on Sony Pictures.
Registration: Stay up to date on the latest movie and TV news! Sign up for our email newsletter here.
https://www.indiewire.com/2023/01/missing-review-searching-sequel-1234799942/ Missing Review: Quest for Sequel Extends Gimmick