Missing (2023) Review

Single mum Grace (Nia Long) and her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) go on vacation to Colombia, leaving Grace’s teenage daughter June (Storm Reid) home alone. When the couple suddenly go missing, June must use all the online tools at her disposal to track them down — uncovering unexpected secrets along the way.

by John Nugent |
Release Date:

21 Apr 2023

Original Title:

Missing (2023)

Released in 2018, Searching seemed the natural cinematic response to a generation of people raised and nourished by screens. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, it built on the cinematic language established in 2014's Unfriended, a subgenre that producer Timur Bekmambetov labelled ‘screenlife’ — where the entirety of the onscreen action takes place within the confines of a computer or phone browser window, the drama playing out in FaceTime calls, texts, and frantic Google searches — the ‘mise-en-screen’, if you will. It was an ingenious, original and very of-its-time thriller.

So nakedly entertaining and consistently satisfying that it perhaps even edges past its predecessor.

Missing, the spiritual sequel to Searching, involves an entirely new story and — save for a sly reference to John Cho’s character in the prologue — an entirely new cast, but it retains the cinematic grammar and philosophy of the original film. New writer-directors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson served as editors of Searching, and were heavily responsible for co-creating that screenlife style. Clearly, they have a keen understanding of how this unusual format works, how it should look, and how its visual limitations require pace and drama as counterpoint. So, again, underneath the flashily vibrant, music video-style editing, there is fleet-footed storytelling, a mystery that builds and evolves, twists, red herrings and long-dormant secrets behind every new browser window.

The stage is nicely set for a well-made retread, then. But Missing is so nakedly entertaining and consistently satisfying that, in a few ways, it perhaps even edges past its predecessor. For one thing, switching the main perspective from John Cho’s naive middle-aged dad to Storm Reid’s tech-literate Gen-Z hero June feels a particularly smart move: it makes far more sense that an Extremely Online 18-year-old would have the amateur sleuthing skillset to slowly unravel the mystery of her missing mother. For her part, Reid is excellent, engaging company.

Her performance also helps contribute to the fact that this is, impressively, more emotionally rich than the original film. While both are stories about fractured relationships between parents and children being healed through a traumatic experience, Missing finds surprising, dramatically powerful ways to deepen that arc, with a final-act reveal that hits hard. And while the plausibility of the screenlife format is certainly stretched — as with Cho’s character in Searching, June helpfully leaves her FaceTime camera on at all times, even when not on a call — it’s never totally broken, Merrick and Johnson finding new ingenious ways to keep the action on a screen (from a remote security set-up to a smart watch camera). In fact, amid the heartrate-swelling suspense, it even finds room for warmth and humour — a joke about CAPTCHAs is particularly well-observed — and crucially, tells a story that would still work gangbusters in a conventional film. That’s Missing’s true strength: as shrewd and gimmicky as its format is, it is, fundamentally, a good film first.

A gripping, well-told, incredibly watchable thriller for a new generation of TikTok sleuths — and a compelling argument to up your average screen-time.
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