Making a movie where none of the characters is (seemingly) filmed using a traditional movie camera might seem like a bad idea, but in the hands of the producers behind Unfriended and 2018’s Searching, it can be a masterclass in how to tell a riveting story. The latest to use this technique to great success is the new film Missing.
Just as with the previous films, the story of Missing is told entirely through a computer screen, detailing the lives of June (Storm Reid) and her mom, Grace (Nia Long). Grace is about to go on a trip to Colombia with her boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), putting a little extra stress on her somewhat-strained relationship with June.
But when Grace and Kevin don’t show up on their return flight, June does the best she can to find out what happened to them using her phone and computer. Her search, encompassing a litany of websites and apps, includes multiple other people, including her mom’s lawyer, Heather (Amy Landecker); Javi (Joaquim de Almeida), a gig worker in Colombia; and her best friend, Veena (Megan Suri).
Written and directed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, the film is amazingly kinetic considering everything is being filtered through one type of screen or another. Much more so than in Searching, which had a 40-something father looking for his daughter, the internet savvy of June plays a huge part in the entertainment factor of the film. Even when June is at her most frazzled, her ingrained ability to navigate to the most useful site or app is a blast to watch.
One of the most fun parts of the film is that it invites the audience to try to figure out the mystery before June does. June uses a notes app to keep track of information throughout the film, leaving her screen looking like a digital version of a detective’s bulletin board. Just like in any mystery, there are plenty of red herrings, but if you pay close enough attention, you can anticipate what’s going to happen before it actually transpires.
Of course, viewers have to suspend their disbelief more than a bit to get into the story, which features some legitimately great twists and turns. The biggest hurdle to get over is the idea that June’s computer would be recording her even when she’s not using a video app. This is a slight cheat so that the filmmakers can keep June’s face on screen at almost all times, but the film doesn’t work without her reactions, so it’s best to just go with it.
As with Searching, the film’s use of actual sites and apps gives it legitimacy. Instead of using names that sound real but aren’t, the filmmakers actually use Facetime, Instagram, Ring, Google Translate, and more. One of the cleverer inclusions is Netflix, with June watching a fake show called Unfiction that allows the filmmakers to reference the events of Searching without actually showing scenes from it.
Although the film doesn’t necessarily require it, each member of the main cast turns in a good acting performance. Reid, known from A Wrinkle in Time and Euphoria, is an ideal lead, giving just the right levels of emotion to the different aspects of her role. Long, Leung, and Landecker have smaller roles, but they each make the most of their time. De Almeida steals the film in his brief appearances, which is tough to do as he is almost always looking into a phone camera.
Due to the innovative ways in which the filmmakers use computer technology, Missing is as effective as a mystery as any traditional film. As long as they continue to put as much effort into the storytelling as they do the visuals of the film, it’s easy to see the method working for multiple more movies.
Missing opens in theaters on January 20.