Missing does a decent job using its format to conceive a modern thriller.
Published on June 7, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
A new type of film has taken shape over the past decade, referred to as screenlife. These are films told entirely from the perspective of a computer desktop, rarely leaving the digital space of web browsers and applications. There have been some clever uses of this sub-genre, as with the missing-person thriller Searching, and not-so-engaging pictures, as with the paranormal horror of Unfriended. The good news is that Missing falls into the clever camp.
June Allen (Storm Reid) is a teenager looking forward to having the house to herself. With her father having died years ago and her mother, Grace (Nia Long), taking off on a trip to Columbia with her new boyfriend, it’s the perfect opportunity to throw a party with her friends. The party seems to go great. June can secure the funds for the booze and quickly conceal her browser tabs of party-throwing amid the checking-up lawyer friend Heather (Amy Landecker). But when June tries contacting her mom, she gets no response. Grace doesn't show up when June waits at the airport for her arrival. Concerned, June contacts the hotel and discovers that her mom and mom’s boyfriend never officially checked out.
From there, the film goes down some twisty routes to keep the search as exciting as its predecessor film, Searching. June investigation leads to her doing everything from automatically translating with Google to calling the hotel to tapping into private investigators of the region. Accounts are hacked in believable ways as June slowly pieces together the secretive nature of Grace and her boyfriend. Various apps are established well to make them cleverly used later, as with the automatic doorbell webcam signaling visitors and the way Grace confuses Siri commands for Facetime. There are even some surprising moments of sadness, as when June stews in old footage of her dad around Father’s day and how she regrets the last message she sent her mother was a thumbs-up for the message “Love You.”
Ten years ago, a film like this could have tripped itself. There’ve been many attempts at technothrillers in the past that try to stage the internet as a dark place of sinister forces, be they of this realm or not. But since so many of the applications used within Missing have become ubiquitous to most of the population, this film doesn’t have to make up silly software or play fast and loose with how the internet works. It helps that a film like this has genuine brands attached to better sell the world. It’s not that the filmmakers couldn’t retitle it all to brands like Hoogle or Licrosoft, but having these real-world apps present makes it easier to follow June and her trail of clues. One could easily see themselves in this similar mode of dashing between browser windows and messenger programs, furiously trying to find clues that the police cannot.
Missing does a decent job using its format to conceive a modern thriller. The acting is spot-on, as the characters are believable in their limited and intricate tech knowledge. June is fairly adept, while her mother still struggles to solve that Siri issue. The twists get a little stranger as the film goes on, but it never goes too far with its surprises that it takes one out of the film. With tight editing and solid acting, it’s a tactile thriller competent enough to appreciate the staging alone.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.