A film review by Craig J. Koban April 6, 2023


2023, PG-13, 111 mins.

Storm Reid as June Allen  /  Joaquim De Almeida as Javier  /  Ken Leung as Kevin Lin  /  Daniel Henney as Agent  /  Elijah Park  /  Nia Long as Grace Allen  /  Megan Suri as Veena  /  Tim Griffin as James Allen  /  Thomas Barbusca as Cody

Written and directed by Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson

MISSING serves as a standalone sequel to 2018's SEARCHING (seen, but not reviewed by me), which concerned a desperate father looking for his lost daughter while employing everything from laptops, cell phones, surveillance footage, and so forth (I've heard the descriptors "desktop" and "screenlife" thriller being used when talking about it).  The screenwriters of that film - Will Merrick and Nick Johnson - returned to not only write MISSING, but also work behind the camera this go around, making their collective feature film directorial debuts.  

Their latest effort doesn't contain any of the characters or story threads of SEARCHING (even though they are very slyly referenced at one point) and instead opts to tell another twisted and macabre tech thriller that once again makes use of every possible device, app, and piece of software to propel its central mystery narrative forward.  Those that have not seen SEARCHING won't be wholly left bewildered here with MISSING, which essentially is a tangential entry in this self-contained anthology franchise-in-the-making, and for the most part, it is a thoroughly enthralling ride to take.  It's just a crushing disappointment when logic straining plot developments and a horrendously and unintentionally hilarious twist and ensuing climax kind of does the film in and betrays what worked leading into it.

Viewers also have to be willing to submit themselves - as was the case with SEARCHING - to a film that's nearly all presented from computer screens and captures on them.  The story introduces us to June (Storm Reid), an 18-year-old who lost her father, James (Tim Griffin), to cancer years ago, and she's still trying to process her grief.  She doesn't take too kindly to the fact that her mother Grace (Nia Long) has decided to hook up with a new man, Kevin (Ken Leung), with both of them about to embark on a week-long trip to Columbia.  Grace says goodbye to L.A. and June, leaving her all alone to plan an off-the-hook party with a bunch of her friends, one of whom being her bestie Veena (Megan Suri).  A week goes by and June departs for the airport to pick up her mother and Kevin...but they're mysterious no-shows.  All attempts to reach out to her mother via texts, chats, FaceTime and phone calls are failures, leaving June distraught and deeply concerned about her mother's well being.     

Once she pulls herself up and gets beyond her initial panic mode, June goes on the sleuthing offensive and ventures online to try to make some sense of what happened to her mother between leaving L.A. and arriving on foreign soil.  June begins to meticulously piece together every digital breadcrumb clue that she can to craft a larger picture of Grace's whereabouts, not to mention her overall relationship with Kevin.  She manages to make FaceTime contact with a local P.I. (Joaquim de Almeida) and FBI Agent Part (Daniel Henney), the latter of whom steps in when it becomes alarmingly clear that Grace just might have been abducted at some point during her travels.   As is the case with most mystery thrillers, red herrings are dropped, progress is made and stalled, and big would-be shocking revelations rear their ugly heads, which forces June to completely re-evaluate what has happened before.  There's also the obligatory suspect list that grows, but is eventually picked away at to get us to the final culprit, which causes poor June to emotionally spiral into deeper pits of despair.  



The premise of MISSING is economical and, to be fair, has been done time and time again in this genre (one family member goes missing and is feared to be kidnapped and/or dead, leading to another family member going on a one-person mission to uncover the truth when outside forces fail to do so).  The key difference to what Merrick and Johnson do with their premise is that they limit most of June's experiences to the confines of computer and phone screens.  More often than not, June does not physically share movie screen time with any other character, but is rather communicating with them from vast distances with various forms of messaging apps.  There's one element that I admire about MISSING's teen hero: she's presented as smart, brave and resourceful.  She manages through determination and deductive logic (plus, yeah, a lot of luck on the password front) to use websites, email and text records, travel itineraries, and so forth of both her mother and Kevin to uncover just what in the hell has happened to them.  The central mystery of Grace's true whereabouts keeps audiences mostly enthralled and guessing in the early stages, which is where I think MISSING is at its strongest.  As June launches herself into an endless stream of text/video chats, blog/email/social media posts, YouTube videos, and correspondence with complete strangers that become unlikely allies, you gain an appreciation for how this film builds legitimate suspense and potent forward momentum, even when tangible answers seem hopelessly out of this girl's reach despite her best and most commendable efforts.     

Alas, one of the elements that really held me back from fully getting on board with MISSING is that perhaps June becomes just...well...too smart and savvy to be believed.  That seems like I'm immediately contradicting my aforementioned point about respecting the wits and tenacity of this troubled teen (and, boy, there's nothing worse than when films aggressively dumb down this  age group), but aspects of MISSING's scripting strains credibility, especially in its latter stages when the underlining mystery gets so thorny and complicated that it's a bona fide miracle that this greenhorn junior detective is able to crack it altogether.  There are individual moments that feel both relatable and genuine, especially when June pours through social media posts for clues (that would be the first logical step for anyone trying to find a lost loved one).  But then she's able - through means far too complicated for me to get into her - call in and impersonate various people to get online passwords reset with stunning ease, not to mention that it doesn't speak kindly to the overall intelligence level of the nefarious forces she's after when it comes to security and covering up their physical and digital tracks.  Plot detours that should elicit legitimately surprised reactions from us have the exact opposite effect of having us throw our hands in the air with incredulous disbelief.  June is an intelligent young woman, yes, but as the story progresses from one ridiculous scene to the next you begin to question whether she's really that smart or just illogically lucky...or both, because of the demands of the plot to get her to the finish line.

And one rather large plot twist is so insufferably ludicrous that I would have preferred the entire film leading into that point to just be a dream that June was suffering and suddenly awakening from.  There's a certain level of suspension of disbelief that's required for genre flicks like this, but the way that MISSING makes some categorical missteps in its final act renders the story into silly WTF contrivances that are just too hard to swallow.  It's all too bad, because there's so much to MISSING that works well in its first half.  There's an obvious timeliness to its story in terms of how teens are obsessively consuming everything transpiring on their computer and phone screens on a daily basis, so I liked - in principle - how this film's teen uses her savvy online knowledge for good use to help save her AWOL mother.  And young Storm Reid does an admirable - if not thankless - job of carrying this entire film on her shoulders.  She's always an authentic presence here, even when the story her character is embroiled in goes down one too many crazy detours for its own good.  In the end, MISSING is one of those PWP thrillers, or one with a premise without payoff.  I was generally hooked in by this film early on, but as it progressed and built towards that cockamamie conclusion, I just wanted to - ahem! - log out and never log back in again.

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