A Technological Approach to Mystery
The rapid rate of technological advances in today’s day and age poses innumerable questions of security and surveillance. In an era where information is accessible with the press of a button, there is an uneasiness about just how much can be found on the internet.
That is the premise for the 2023 film Missing, a standalone sequel to the film Searching, released in 2018. Eighteen-year-old June Allen (Storm Reid) is left home alone while her mother, Grace (Nia Long), and Grace’s boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), go on a vacation to Colombia. However, when June goes to the airport to pick them up at the end of the trip, neither of them gets off the plane. Desperate for answers as to where her mother could have gone, June turns to technology to track them both down, with the assistance of Javi (Joaquim de Almeida), a freelance errand man in Colombia.
The entire film is shot through screens, whether it’s FaceTime footage, security cameras, or social media videos. The search for information takes place entirely over the internet as well, traversing Gmail accounts, bank accounts, and even Google Translate. It’s a multimedia sort of approach to filmmaking, with many segments of the film silent, relying on visuals to tell a story more than dialogue. Though it may seem like a recipe for flat characters or stilted relationships among them, it was quite surprising how much background information and interaction was created through these various mediums of storytelling. June is a dynamic, intelligent protagonist whose family is set up eloquently from the start. Old home videos provide an overview of the family and the disruption within it that sets up the rest of the film while cleverly hiding some details from the viewers until the very end.
The fractured relationship between June and her mother is one of the key points of the film, which fills a sort of tired stereotype that is present in many narratives. While it didn’t necessarily improve the quality of the film, it didn’t detract from it, either – it felt like a realistic portrayal of a familial relationship, no matter the commonality of such a story. The twists and turns of the film (while occasionally fantastical and demanding a stretch of the imagination) are enough to compensate, keeping viewers engaged with the story and curious about how it is all going to resolve. Little clues hint at some of these twists before they occur, though some are so subtle that they may not be remembered until June figures them out. Much like Knives Out, most of the pieces are in place for viewers to put together if they can push past the narrative and focus on the facts that June gathers. Some of the answers are out there from the beginning – the trick is remembering them.
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Some Interesting Themes
A few noteworthy messages of the film emerge from the social media within the film – as the story of Grace’s disappearance becomes more widespread and more concerning, everyone seems to be weighing in on the situation, from YouTubers and podcasts to news anchors and people on various social media platforms. Such platforms have never been portrayed positively, but it seems to reinforce the insensitivity of people distanced from the event through screens. Because it is happening to complete strangers, the public feels free to speculate and post about it, forgetting the fact that it is a real case. Even June’s best friend gets sucked into that mindset because of her affinity for true crime films and documentaries. It highlights an interesting dilemma for filmmakers of today’s time – the onslaught of films and podcasts about serial killers and crime desensitizes the world to the reality of such situations, decreasing people’s empathy and turning them all into overzealous amateur sleuths.
The film also introduces, albeit briefly, an interesting commentary on gender. When it is discovered that Grace may not be all that she appears, the focus of the internet turns from thinking Kevin is the kidnapper to thinking that Grace may have had a hand in staging the incident herself. A blame-shifting happens even though there is no proof that the secrets in Grace’s past are sinister. Kevin is a known and recorded con man – Grace is an unknown, a mystery, and that seems to be enough for people to condemn her without even knowing the facts of the situation. Though gender may not have been the intentional focus of the issue, it poses an interesting question of power dynamics and privilege when it comes to who is blamed in these types of situations.
Similar Films and Final Thoughts
The film’s thriller aspects are reminiscent of films like What Lies Beneath and Dead Again, the technological aspects akin to the tone and theme of Black Mirror, and the mystery comes together in ways similar to Knives Out or the most recent Death on the Nile remake. Added to its unique, completely screen-oriented approach to storytelling, Missing is a fascinating film that is sure to keep viewers guessing. The horror of the sheer amount of information anyone can find about any individual is an unsettling quandary that will potentially linger long after the film has been viewed and the computer is shut down. After all, who knows who may be watching?
Missing is currently available on Prime Video, Vudu, and Apple TV.
Missing (2023). Official Sony Pictures Trailer.
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|Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration. Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.|