Suspense Found: Our Review of ‘Missing (2023)’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - January 23, 2023
Suspense Found: Our Review of ‘Missing (2023)’

A ways back, in the pre-pandemic days of 2018 (which feels like forever ago), the writer/director team of Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty delivered to audiences a film that grew to be a festival darling Searching. The film, starring John Cho frantically looking for his missing teenage daughter, used a unique framing to deliver its story as the film is entirely seen through other screens within the movie screen. Be it iPhones, laptops, doorbell cameras, and security footage, the film is always within another screen on the big screen. Now 4 years later the editors of that film, Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, are in the director’s chairs and have reteamed with Ohanian and Chaganty on a new story that is told in a very similar fashion, Missing.

Desperately trying to get out from under her overprotective mother’s shadow, June (Storm Reid) is anxiously waiting for the day that her mother Grace (Nia Long) goes on vacation to Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) so she can rip it up with her friends for a week and a half. But as she waits at the airport to pick them up 11 days later, things become alarming and strange. Kevin and Grace do not show, and nobody is responding to their phones. When Grace contacts the hotel to ask if they are still there, they ask if she is calling to arrange delivery of the bags they left behind.

Frantic to find help, she contacts the US consulate in Colombia where Agent Park (Daniel Henney) offers to help, but is under the pressure of bureaucratic red tape. Desperate to get her hands on the security footage from the hotel before it auto-erases, June hires Javi (Joaquim de Almeida) through a South American “TaskRabbit”-style service to help her on the ground in Colombia.  But things don’t seem to be adding up until a shocking discovery is made that changes the entire context of the search.

What Johnson and Merrick do well here is leave literal breadcrumbs, in the form of open notes/windows on June’s laptop screen. Characters also perform actions that reoccur so frequently and are everyday events that don’t necessarily mean anything, but are huge foreshadowing for the events that are soon to follow. It’s a well thought out strategy that pays out well over the film’s final hour very well, but sadly, it also somehow leaves the first 45-50 minutes almost feeling stuck in place. In fact, I looked at my watch about 45 minutes in, not because the film bored me but because the film at that point had become a little redundant and was begging for motivation to thrust the narrative forward. Thankfully, shortly after that, the first big twist drops, and it takes a different than expected impact, and it immediately sucks the audience into the film all over again. In fact, the film starts racing forward through to the well mapped out and extremely satisfying conclusion alluded to earlier.

Reid is fine enough here as June, with a solid performance that manages to hold throughout, which is good since so much of the film working overall revolves around her ability to keep the audience engaged. Of the rest of the cast, the person who ends up getting the most screen time is actually de Almeida’s Javi as he ends up invested in helping June for his own reasons. He’s a welcome steadying rock for the film as his effortless charisma just imbues Javi with an immediate likeability that makes me want him to return whenever he’s away. The rest of the cast are basically supporting roles here, and do fine work of their own, but Amy Landecker manages to stand out as Grace’s friend Heather who checks up on June. Her character ends up taking on more meaning as the story unfolds.

Much like Searching, Missing manages to use its self-imposed restrictions to its benefit. The use of a Netflix crime drama that June and her friend Veena (Megan Suri) in particular is a nice touch that also pays off in a nice way. And Grace uses tactics and methods of breaking into her mother and boyfriend’s mail and other accounts that are completely plausible and realistic. They thankfully stay away from the trope of making her into some “hacker by convenience’ as I mentioned in my National Treasure: Edge of History review as their biggest mistake, but grounding Missing further in reality instead. Missing is much better than the traditional January/February non-awards holdover fare that we usually get in theatres, but you have to get to the twist before it really picks up.

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"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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