Written by: Hannah Tran | January 13th, 2023
Missing (Nicholas D. Johnson/Will Merrick, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
There have been only a handful of times when a movie has literally put me on the edge of my seat. 2018’s Searching was one of them. This year, its standalone sequel, Missing, was no different. With a story from Searching’s original writing-directing duo, Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty, Missing is filled with just as much mystery and surprise as its predecessor.
Helmed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, the notable editors of the first film, Missing offers a new perspective through main character June, a typically tech-savvy 18-year-old who takes on the role of online detective after her mother goes missing while on vacation with her new boyfriend in Colombia. And although it is unfairly disadvantaged by following in the footsteps of a movie whose screenlife concept was still fairly new, Missing is a worthy successor that values the emotional and thematic execution as much as it does the form.
While it’s difficult to move on from the powerhouse performance of John Cho as a fish-out-of-water father character in Searching, Euphoria’s Storm Reid pulls you in from behind the screen with heavy emotionality and relatability in the role of June. Her relationship with her mother, played by Nia Long (Lemon), is furthermore expertly written in its portrayal of the balance between resentment and love. The major difference this time around is that June’s internet know-how allows for a lightning-paced screenplay in which, much like in the case of real-life internet sleuths, she is almost always a few steps ahead of the cops in the quest to find her mom.
In fact, it might be the rare movie that could have benefitted by extending its runtime. The conversations it presents on internet conspiracy and the true-crime genre are interesting, although they are not given much time for expansion. The rapidity of the reveals is thrilling, however, and the movie trusts the audience to pay attention to detail and rewards them with a satisfying payoff.
Still, these reveals also could have probably benefitted by having more time devoted to their setup. The story here feels larger and more complex, which is neither a good nor bad thing. Its resolution, however, could have been simplified for a more grounded conclusion. While the ending is emotionally moving, it does veer into melodrama in a way that didn’t entirely work for me.
Yet, Johnson and Merrick fully deliver the humor and intelligence a story like this needs. There are some clever new flourishes in regard to the computer-screen presentation that are fun to watch. And although, much like the first film, they make extensive use of security cameras, newsreels, and FaceTime in a way that personally feels a bit too easy and obvious, the look of the screen is so convincing, and the performances are so captivating, that it is fairly forgivable.
Beyond being one of the more formal, technically adept entries in the screenlife category, Missing is an exhilarating rollercoaster of a movie that pays perfect homage to its predecessor. With a fascinating mystery and likable characters, Johnson and Merrick’s directorial debut manages to be horrifying, empowering and, above all, heartwarming.