When the cat’s away, the mice will play. But what happens if the cat doesn’t come home? Such is the question posed by directing duo Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson in Missing, a spiritual sequel to 2018’s technologically-inclined thriller Searching; which, wouldn’t you know it, happened to be edited by Merrick and Johnson, both making their debuts here.
The John Cho-led screenlife thriller is minorly referenced here in Missing, but this film – also penned by Merrick and Johnson – has its own standalone personality, focusing on young June (Storm Reid), a tech-deep, social media-obsessed teen who’s often oblivious, or, more correctly, dismissive of her mother’s rants about safety and lack of communication; Nia Long turning in likeable work as said mother, Grace.
The lack of communication – Grace makes a point to June about emptying her constantly full inbox so she can leave her a message – becomes a major plot point in the eventual narrative spiral of Missing, which jolts itself out of its energetic party mode when Grace fails to return home from a Colombian getaway with her new beau, Kevin (Ken Leung). June’s typically spent the majority of her emergency cash on a rager over the last few days, so she’s already at a disadvantage, but the lack of hearing from her own mother raises alarms, so much so that she gets the Colombian embassy involved when June learns they haven’t checked out of their hotel, and the trail has seemingly gone cold.
Similar to how Searching played out from behind the various screens we use in our everyday lives, Missing moves at a constant pace as June plays detective from her living room, each screenshot revealing another layer to Merrick and Johnson’s elaborate mystery that continually unfolds to the point that it borders on revelling in one twist too many. There’s always suspension of belief with certain technological aspects, and Missing is no exception. It may use a variety of apps and websites that have validity to them, but there’s an ease at which June is able to work out certain passwords and patterns – as well as syncing to other devices in record time – that doesn’t ground itself in reality, even if the mystery at the film’s core is one that could happen.
It’s a minor gripe though for a film that’s all about surrendering to its premise and indulging in June’s detective skills as she tries to find where her mother is, if new boyfriend Kevin is involved, why Grace’s best friend and lawyer, Heather (Amy Landecker), is a presence in the case, and if anyone can truly be trusted when the possibility of Grace staging such an act is thrown around in the covering media; I’d put money down that no audience member has this mystery solved from the get-go.
To know anything more would ultimately ruin Missing‘s uncovered mentality. It lacks the emotion that spurred Searching on, but it makes up for it in pure pluck, with Reid commanding every frame as a could-be-sullen teenager whose smarts and shrewdness make her an easy hero to root for. A welcome twist on the found-footage genre subsect that practically ran itself into the ground through overexposure, Missing makes a classic narrative feel inviting and fresh.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Missing is screening in Australian theatres now.