Since I saw “Missing,” I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I found myself at the theater twice opening weekend to catch the same film. A fun thriller and a vehicle for talented young actress Storm Reid brings the twists, features surprisingly dense themes, and incorporates modern technology and culture in a way that no other film I’ve seen has — even other screenlife films.
I knew “Missing” was something special early on, from an interaction between Reid’s June and her mother Grace, played by Nia Long. June hovers her cursor over the chat box like a hand reaching out, but ultimately refuses to reciprocate a “Love you” text from Grace. Instead of responding she gives it a thumbs up reaction. Not even a heart reaction. The film lets the camera linger on that with a subtle sound cue and all the gravity of a slap to the face.
That may seem silly, but I viewed it as authentic and contemporary. There’s a modern cultural literacy there that I haven’t seen in another film.
Moments like that are frequent throughout the film, and do much to contribute to June as a character — she makes mistakes while typing, she hesitates before making her selection in one of those “prove you’re not a robot” things, she pokes fun at her mom for using Siri for everything and her investigation methods are in part pulled from a history of bingeing true crime shows on Netflix.
Of course, it takes more than a relatable lead to make a film. “Missing” shares a lot of the details of its mystery in the trailers, but it saves its biggest reveals for the theater.
Grace leaves on vacation to Colombia with her new boyfriend, Kevin, played by Ken Leung. June spends the week partying, but shows up to the airport to pick the couple up — filming herself holding a cardboard sign that reads “welcome back from prison mom!” Grace and Kevin never show.
When government agents at the Colombian Embassy let her down, June takes matters into her own hands, hiring lovable Colombian gig worker Javier, played by Joaquim de Almeida, to go to her mom’s hotel and inquire about the security camera footage.
Despite a runtime of nearly two hours, “Missing” flies by with well-paced reveals, fun characters, and some truly shocking twists. The film’s third act was entirely unexpected, but serves as a strong capstone to the experience, showcasing equally the horror and the resilience of humanity and depicting a stigmatized issue with nuance.
The lead suspect in Grace’s disappearance is, of course, the also disappeared Kevin, but as is shown in the trailers, the film throws constant misdirects and calls into question both Grace and Kevin’s histories — in an exploration of online identity and how individuals choose to present themselves.
Through it all, the beating heart of the film is June’s relationship with her parents — with Grace, a strained coexistence, with her father — deceased more than a decade — clearly unresolved grief.
Grace’s vacation takes her away over Father’s Day, where we see June wrestle with her emotions — a dour conclusion to a fun party montage filling in the days her mother was meant to be gone. Despite that, we see June take risks and go to extensive lengths to find her mother — refusing to believe rumors about her involvement in the international plot. She also connects with Javier, who has his own troubled relationship with his son. This of course comes to a head in the aforementioned very good climactic third act.
“Missing” is a uniquely modern film; to such an extent that it may not be for everyone, especially those who can’t connect with the screenlife mechanism used to portray the story. Unlike most screenlife films, “Missing” does use a more dynamic camera, zooming in, directing attention, even replicating techniques like the dolly zoom as June reels from one of the film’s largest twists. It also cuts and moves time, unlike other great screenlife films like “Host” where the entire film plays out in real time.
A thriller with a mystery spanning continents that really boils down to a daughter’s relationship with her mother, “Missing” is a film I’m going to be thinking about and putting in front of others for a long time.
“Missing” is playing this weekend at Kenai Cinema. Visit catheaters.com for showtimes or to purchase tickets.