Rarely does a mystery film offer a fresh perspective. Over the years, the mystery genre has been thoroughly explored, from legendary detectives to thrillers adapted from popular beach reads. That’s why it’s truly refreshing when a film like Missing comes along and injects some innovation into the formula.
Released in 2023 as a sequel to 2018’s Searching, Missing follows the story of June Allen (played by Storm Reid), a teenager who has never truly known her father and shares a complicated relationship with her well-meaning but imperfect single mother. Her struggles intensify when her mother mysteriously vanishes during a trip to Mexico. Determined to find her, June takes matters into her own hands and utilizes her amateur online detective skills to piece together the puzzle.
At first glance, the premise may seem straightforward, and that’s precisely the intention. However, what sets Missing apart is its unique storytelling approach. The entire film unfolds through the screens of everyday devices we interact with constantly. Scenes are depicted through Photo Booth windows, FaceTime calls, security footage displayed on computer screens, video chats, and internet browsers. Every aspect of Missing originates from a screen, including June’s detective work. While other movies have adopted a similar screen-based format, Missing stands out by employing a more diverse range of screen elements and frequently changing locations, distinguishing itself from films like Unfriended or its acclaimed sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web.
This is where the film’s cleverness truly shines. Missing confidently navigates the realm of the internet, acknowledging the prevalence of livestreams capturing public spaces and leveraging gig apps like Tasker to virtually be in multiple places at once. It even features ingenious phishing scams targeting older individuals and realistic account manipulation that avoids the exaggerated and comical “hacking” tropes often seen in other thrillers. The film’s depiction of technology is a welcome departure from clichéd portrayals and avoids relying on characters with unrealistic tech expertise.
The creative and organic framing of shots captured via webcams or video feeds adds an authentic sense of suspense, effectively immersing viewers and rendering them as helpless as June in her remote investigation. Maintaining a delicate balance, the film’s directors, Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, skillfully integrate the camera work without ever becoming intrusive or distracting. They constantly find new and surprising ways to present the action, never relying on repetition, and transform the limitations of webcam or iPhone viewing angles into opportunities to heighten tension.
However, Missing is more than just a collection of clever gimmicks. Above all, it is an immensely entertaining movie. It provides viewers with ample clues to solve the mystery themselves, while still delivering an engrossing experience for those who prefer to witness the characters’ detective work unfold. Beyond its central enigma, Missing is a rare and intelligent thriller that maintains a balanced and enjoyable tone, even during the most dire on-screen situations.
Currently, Missing can be streamed on Netflix, offering audiences the chance to delve into this captivating film.