While big-budget blockbusters dominate the modern box office, new movies are still finding a place in theaters. From found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project and Clover field to films told strictly through a point of view lens Hardcore Henry, filmmakers consistently attempt to take theatrical immersion to the next level. The Gen-Z version of it came out in 2018 with To search, a mystery thriller told exclusively through computer screens, video phone calls and security cameras. After a massive $75 million loot on an $880,000 budget, Sony Pictures greenlit a spiritual successor to the John Cho-led film, Missing. While the novelty of the unique storytelling technique has worn off a bit, Missing delivers an impressively paced suspense fest that will have audiences on the edge of their seats.
Missing stars Storm Reid as June Allen, a rebellious high school student who has the house to herself while her mother, Grace Allen (played by Nia Long), goes on vacation to Colombia with her new boyfriend. Things take a turn when Grace doesn’t return home as planned, leaving June (literally) to fend for herself in an attempt to find her mother.
Missing‘s most impressive achievement lies in its pace. The world has changed significantly in the half-decade between these computer screen images, as the rise of short content on social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram has led younger generations to demand stimulating media. That’s exactly true Missing thrives. A lot is happening on screen at once, but directors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick regularly draw the audience’s attention to one central area. That said, they also fill the frame with dozens of Easter eggs in the form of text messages, search history, and notifications. This means that even if the audience’s mind wanders, they have the luxury of potentially picking up clues that will bring their attention back to the central story.
Speaking of the central story, Missing does an applaudable job of unraveling the layers of his characters. Come act 3, the craziness is driving 75 mph on back roads, but there was a natural progression to that point. Reid is especially thankful for that, as she is the viewer’s guide through this mystery. Since she spends a lot of time alone, which the public only sees through the Photo Booth app on her laptop, Reid communicates by conveying her thought process.
That cannot be achieved without the masterful editing and visual effects led by Johnson and Merrick. Simple things like June typing “I love you” before pausing, erasing the message and instead responding with the dreaded “Like” works wonders for understanding how she thinks. Less is more, and leaning on those modern nuances is a relief.
Taking it one step further, Missing is fascinatingly smart. This applies to both June’s journey and the assembly itself. Similar to deleting typed messages, there are several (spoiler) moments in this movie that are clever enough to do the bare minimum. It helps that June thinks like someone her age, as there are rarely moments that seem unrealistic or force audiences to suspend disbelief. Flowers must go to Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowski at the Missing editorial team, as they effortlessly zigzagged through various apps and devices in a satisfyingly smooth manner.
The biggest criticism for Missing come in its escalation. Yes, reaching that aforementioned 75 mph speed felt natural, but there are some moments that felt too big for the small-scale story. Lucky for those riskier swings, Missing is tied with enough heart to give the audience misty eyes. Even though they spend little time together, the dynamic between June and Grace gets to the heart of the matter, especially as June discovers more about her mother.
Aside from a brief identity crisis in act three, Missing is a strong addition to the slowly growing computer screen genre. It probably won’t resonate universally, but this film is a grand slam for younger audiences. Silky-smooth editing and clever integration of all-too-familiar technological techniques mixed with breathtaking tension Missing an immersive experience unlike anything currently around.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Missing will be in cinemas from Friday 20 January.
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