Searching took us down a mystery of a father trying to find his lost daughter, and showed the impressive extent to which technology could be used to dig through who a person is and attempt to find that person via a computer. But Missing expands on this idea to also explore the multiple lives we all live in this one life, the ways that we change and stay the same, and the dangerous possibilities that the internet contains.
Missing follows June Allen (Storm Reid), who is staying home alone while her mother Grace (Nia Long), and her mom’s new boyfriend Kevin Lin (Ken Leung) take a vacation to Colombia. But when Grace and Kevin don’t return from their vacation, June tries to find out what happened to them through her own means, by digging into online accounts and shady e-mails to see where her mother could’ve gone. Along the way, June is aided by her mother’s best friend (Amy Landecker), June’s best friend Veena (Megan Suri), and Javier Ramos (Joaquim de Almeida), a Colombian man from a TaskRabbit-type site helping June on the ground in Colombia.
Like Searching, Missing shows the surprising beauty of the technological age, but also the dangers of this virtual world. For example, June’s father died when she was young, yet she can remember him through videos that she had of the two of them from when she was a kid. In one particularly beautiful moment, we get to see the messages between Grace and Kevin on a dating app and how their love came to be.
Missing also amps up the danger since Searching, with a story that takes place over two countries, and a mystery that delves into the darker possibilities of what the internet can do. Despite the limitations of a PG-13 mystery-thriller, writers Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty (both of whom also wrote Searching) make Missing feel tense and with a very real sense of danger. Ohanian and Chaganty also do an excellent job of laying out the clues for the audience, giving them enough evidence along the way to keep them guessing, throwing in red herrings and dead ends that only add to the excitement of their story. Missing is clever, but keeps its cards close to the chest so the audience will be guessing the whole way through.
Nick Johnson and Will Merrick—making their directorial debuts—always make this story feel expansive, even if it’s being told entirely through screens. Even more than Searching, Missing finds ways to play around with this concept that could’ve been restrictive. For example, the use of a TV show within the film, entitled Unfiction, finds some fun ways to play with this structure, and the discovery of cameras around various tourist haunts is a smart way to build out this world that never feels like a cheat.
However, if there’s one small gripe to be made with Missing, it’s that if the film wants to present itself as a story told entirely through screens, the use of non-diegetic music is technically a cheat to this concept. Julian Scherle’s score is effective and plays with the audience’s tension is fun ways, but considering that we have Spotify, YouTube, and any other number of sites to listen to music, this seems like an easy fix for the film’s only break from its concept.
Yet Missing inherently doesn’t work without solid characters, and thankfully, this story has plenty. Reid is a great protagonist who is understandably freaked out about her mother’s disappearance, and does whatever it takes to find her, regardless of the police investigation or danger to herself. Reid plays June as a child who has already lost her father and will do what she can to make sure she doesn’t lose her mother as well, and that is certainly felt through the performance.
While we trust June from the get-go, as this story unfurls, we begin to consider the pasts of Ken Leung’s Kevin and even Nia Long’s Grace. Yet again, Ohanian and Chaganty’s script makes the audience believe that they could very well be either secretive monsters or exactly who they say they are. The script and these performances are playing a careful balance that makes our allegiances and compassion shift on a dime.
But maybe the most pleasant surprise in this cast is Joaquin de Almeida as Javier Ramos, June’s man on the ground in Colombia. Almeida is mostly known for his more villainous roles in 24 and Fast Five, but here, he’s a compassionate helper and a needed burst of kindness in this film where everyone seems to have their own ulterior motives.
Missing might not have the jolt of originality that Searching had when it was released five years ago (itself also a few years after Unfriended), but Missing does show the malleability and exciting directions these types of stories can take. Structurally, Missing can often feel a bit too much like Searching at times, but by the end, it finds its own path in this intriguing way to tell a mystery. As these films show, the internet is full of secrets and possibilities, so hopefully, there’s more of these stories hidden in there as well.
Missing comes to theaters on January 20.