While big-budget blockbusters dominate the modern box office, novelty films still find a place in theaters today. From found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield to flicks told strictly through a point-of-view lens like Hardcore Henry, filmmakers are consistently making attempts to take theatrical immersion to the next level. The Gen-Z version of that came on the scene in 2018 with Searching, a mystery thriller told exclusively through computer screens, video phone calls, and security cameras. Following a colossal $75 million haul on an $880,000 budget, Sony Pictures greenlit a spiritual successor to the John Cho-led film, Missing. While the unique storytelling technique's novelty has worn off a bit, Missing delivers an impressively paced suspense fest that will leave audiences on the edge of their seats.
Missing stars Storm Reid as June Allen, a rebellious high schooler that has the house to herself as her mother, Grace Allen (played by Nia Long), vacations to Colombia with her new boyfriend. Things turn sideways when Grace does not return home as scheduled, which consequently leaves June up to her own devices (quite literally) in an effort to find her mom.
Missing's most impressive feat lies in its pacing. The world has changed significantly in the half-decade between these computer-screen pictures, as the rise of short-form content on social platforms like TikTok and Instagram has consequently led to younger generations demanding stimulant-driven media. That's exactly where Missing thrives. There is a lot happening on screen at the same time, but directors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick regularly direct audiences' attention to one central area. That said, they also populate the frame with dozens of Easter eggs in the form of text messages, search histories, and notifications. This means that even if audiences' minds wander, they have the luxury of potentially picking up on clues that will reinvest their focus back into the central narrative.
Speaking of the central narrative, Missing does an applause-worthy job at unraveling its characters' layers. Come the third act, the craziness is doing 75 miles per hour in backroads, but there was a natural progression to that point. Reid is especially to thank for that, as she is the viewers' guide throughout this mystery. Considering she spends a good amount of time by her lonesome, which audiences only see through the Photo Booth app on her laptop, Reid does her communicating by conveying her thought process.
That cannot be accomplished without the masterful editing and visual effects work via Johnson and Merrick's direction. Simple things like June typing out "I love you" before pausing, erasing the message, and responding with the dreaded "Like" instead does wonders for understanding how she thinks. Less is more, and leaning into those modern nuances is a breath of fresh air.
Going a step further, Missing is captivatingly clever. That goes for both June's journey and the editing itself. Similar to the axing of typed-out messages, there are multiple (spoilery) moments throughout this film that are so smart by doing the bare minimum. It helps that June thinks like someone her age, as there are rarely any moments that come off as unrealistic or force audiences to suspend their disbelief. Flowers have to go out to Austin Keeling and Arielle Zakowski on the Missing editing team, as they effortlessly wove through different apps and devices in a satisfyingly smooth way.
The biggest criticisms for Missing come in its escalation. Yes, getting up to that aforementioned 75 mph speed felt natural, but there are some moments that came off as too big for the small-scale story. Fortunately for those riskier swings, Missing is bow-tied with enough heart to leave audiences misty-eyed. Even though they spend limited time together, the dynamic between June and Grace hits to the core, especially as June discovers more about her mother.
Aside from a brief identity crisis in the third act, Missing is a strong addition to the slowly growing computer-screen genre. It likely won't resonate universally, but this film is a grand slam for younger audiences. Silky smooth editing and clever integration of all-too-familiar technology techniques mixed with jaw-dropping suspense makes Missing an immersive experience unlike anything currently on the block.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Missing hits theaters on Friday, January 20th.