Sometimes when mom and dad are away, the kids will play. But what happens when mom and dad don’t comeback. Then what?
The writers and directors of this amazing, tech-savvy mystery thriller know how to cut things close. That’s because they were the editors on the cult classic Searching. Back in 2018, that taut dra/hor/mys starred John Cho and built its fear from the ground up—with normal people. That movie’s writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian produced this new spawn. That movie’s editors, Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, wrote and directed Missing. A very modern feel for storytelling using electronic components is being passed along in this standalone sequel.
June (Storm Reid) is a rambunctious Los Angeles teenager. Always on the internet, knee deep in social media, texting, DMing with friends and oblivious to her mother Grace’s (Nia Long) rants. Mom is pissed that her daughter’s phone’s voicemail is full, and she can’t leave a message. June could care less. She’s busy chatting with friends. It’s with great trepidation that Grace decides to take a trip to Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung, TV’s Lost). As she warns June not to have parties, the kid is already organizing the drug-fueled rave she’ll throw at their suburban home.
Days later, June, hungover like a rock star, shows up late at the airport to pick up her mother and Kevin. The couple doesn’t’ get off the plane. They’re gone. No trace of them anywhere. A U.S. embassy agent in Colombia (Daniel Henney) is slow to respond and fails to solve the disappearance. June takes matter into her own hands. From her keyboard, in her bedroom, she investigates.
In the most ultra-modern ways, Merrick and Johnson have imaginatively concocted a stunning, mind-boggling crime story that unfolds like a series of revealing screenshots. Ingeniously, the camera (cinematographer Steven Holleran) barely follows the characters. Instead, it focuses on the multitude of monitors June eyes. Emails, text messages, videos, social media posts, URLs, memes and live-streaming ensue. It’s enough to make fans of the thriller genre hold their collective breath. Enough to enthrall adolescents as they see bits of their cryptic tech world reflected on screen.
The inventive script gets more and more fascinating as 1h 51m of this rollercoaster ride jets by. It’s hard to figure out where the storyline will go next. Who is duping who? Who can be trusted? Poor June is project managing her mom’s rescue, and she’ just a kid. Tweens, teens, adolescents, young women and just about anyone who starts watching this nightmare will be glued to the screen until it ends.
Reid bears the weight of the story well. The fear in her eyes, frustration on her face and intelligent curiosity on display is all her. Nia Long as the quintessential mom, Megan Suri as June’s best friend and veteran actor Joaquim de Almeida (TV’s 24) as June’s eyes on the ground in Colombia are all captivating in their own way. When the script explores de Almeida’s character’s fractured father/son relationship, the film becomes particularly touching. June: “You may have given up on your son, but I’m not giving up on my mom!”
Kudos to the editors, Arielle Zakowski and Austin Keeling, for keeping the plot pieces tightly pulled together. There are very few sets, but those on view look appropriately homey or foreign (production design Kelly Fallon, Lauren Paonessa; set decorator Jennifer Herrig). The musical score pumps up the volume right on cue (Julian Scherle). And one of the reasons that this film pops off in the most normal, everyday ways is because the characters are dressed like the people next door (costume designers, Lindsay Monahan and Sona Rita Guekguezian).
Rarely has this generation of social media fanatics and tech heads been given their own film. This is their gift. A homage to their way of life. For all the moms and dads shaming their kids for spending too much time alone in their rooms on their devices, this is a warning. Texting and social media savvy may save your life one day. So shut the door and stay out of their business!
Almost singlehandedly, this innovative film is giving the mystery genre a fresh start!
In theaters January 20th.
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.