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Missing Review

January 20, 2023 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Missing - Still - 1 Image Credit: Temma Hankin, Sony Pictures Entertainment
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Missing Review  

Directed By: Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick
Written By: Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick, Sev Ohanian, and Aneesh Chaganty
Runtime: 111 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, language, teen drinking, and thematic material.

Storm Reid – June Allen
Nia Long – Grace Allen
Ken Leung – Kevin Lin
Joaquim de Almeida – Javier Ramos
Amy Landecker – Heather
Megan Suri – Veena
Tim Griffin – James
Daniel Henney – Agent Park

From the makers of the 2018 film Searching comes a new attempt at the exploration of the “screenlife” genre in Missing. Screenlife encompasses films that take place from the perspective of digital screens. While there is a strong premise at the heart of Missing, the film runs out of steam about midway through. The screenlife concept and a shoddy, clunky plot fail to elevate what should have been a taut mystery thriller to the finish line.

The story follows rebellious 18-year-old teenager June (Reid), who is happy to get the house to herself when her overprotective mother, Grace (Long), is about to go on a tropical getaway vacation with her boyfriend, Kevin (Leung). After a week of unsupervised revelry, Grace and Kevin never return home from their trip, and Grace has gone missing. With the authorities being of little help, June takes it upon herself to search for the clues in her mother’s disappearance, with the questions growing as she delves deeper into the mystery.

In some credit to Missing, the basic premise and hook of the film are interesting at least. Storm Reid is charismatic and talented, and she is almost able to carry this plot further, if not for some incredibly clunky writing. Nia Long is also an underrated talent, and she believably portrays a loving, if a little overprotective, mother. Additionally, it was surprising to see Joaquim de Almeida of all actors show up in this film, playing against his usual antagonistic villain type and portraying a warm, benevolent figure. De Almeida portrays a random bystander who gets roped into June’s investigation for her missing mother since he lives in the town of Cartagena where she was last seen. Since De Almeida usually portrays more villainous figures, it was nice to see him play a more compassionate, fatherly character for once.

What ultimately undoes Missing is an unwieldy narrative that relies too heavily on the bait-and-switch convention. As the plot progresses it starts throwing multiple plot twists at the audience, and the narrative ignores the leaps in logic necessary for these dramatic shifts to take place. The cracks grow into gaping chasms. With a high-concept gimmick movie such as this, the writing needs to be rock solid to avoid breaking the suspension of disbelief. Missing fails to do that with an abundance of haphazard plot twist that upends what could have been a much more intriguing narrative.

Much like the found footage subgenre, Missing ultimately fails to sell the screenlife movie concept. The novelty of Missing wears off shortly after it starts. The general problem with found footage films is when the bystanders at the story’s center are constantly filming things and keeping the camera on when it makes no sense to continue doing so. In Missing, there is always a helpful laptop, smartphone, or even a smartwatch camera around to conveniently capture the action as it unfolds, even when it makes no sense. While the film appears to pay lip service to how society’s digital devices can easily track and record our activities and how overly reliant people are on their screens, Missing does not appear to dwell on that notion. If anything, there is an unintentionally hilarious endorsement of the convenience of iPhones.

The unintentional humor the movie generates is another issue. Any tension and suspense that filmmakers Johnson and Merrick attempt to build gets promptly chucked out the window from some absurd event or line of dialogue. Coupled with the gimmick concept, it only tears the film’s sense of suspension of disbelief asunder and makes the viewing experience more ridiculous.

Since the concept of the movie relies on the view of a digital screen, after a while, the visual presentation of Missing becomes headache-inducing, if not nauseating. Not to mention, the film cheats with how liberally it relies on the screenlife concept. If there was a movie to sell the concept of a screenlife story, Missing fails to fulfill that promise.

The final score: review Poor
The 411
If there is a movie that can successfully sell the concept of the screenlife genre, Missing does not accomplish that task. The film features a compelling premise and talented actors, but the gimmick wears itself thin very quickly. The script tries to distract audiences with a barrage of plot twists that make no sense, and the unintentional moments of humor break the suspension of disbelief. Missing is an apt title as the film lacks key components to truly nail what should have been a suspenseful, nail-biting thriller.