When the mother flies to Colombia with the new lover, even as a teenage daughter you start thinking. Namely, how you can celebrate the best of all parties in the storm-free booth – and then also how to get the following chaos under control again. 18-year-old June (Storm Reid) is still busy in Los Angeles when it becomes clear that the mother and her companion are not returning as planned. And, worse, they’re offline.
That’s how “Missing” begins, a rather amazing thriller that focuses entirely on the screen of June’s computer – which, like her smartphone, she never seems to turn off. She researches the net because she is sure that something must have happened. The FBI and the US Embassy in Colombia are lagging behind in their search, so June gets her own detective on the ground. In Cartagena, she hires a cleaning man for eight dollars an hour, online of course, whom she uses in a non-specialist capacity: he combs the city with his moped on her behalf, looking for Grace, the mother (Nia Long). They communicate via FaceTime, new detective Javi (Joaquim de Almeida) is a nice, fatherly guy who takes June’s concerns seriously.
Together they follow the trail revealed by Grace’s smartphone location history – June on her computer in LA, Javi on the streets of Cartagena. The direct jump from monitor to reality gives it a video game feel, but also makes it abundantly clear how efficient a pursuit can be when you use enough digital tools. To this end, June breaks into all of her mother’s personal accounts, not least her credit card statement or the dating app, and she doesn’t stop at her lover’s mail account either. At the same time, she cracks every webcam in LA and Cartagena that could be useful to her.
The bad men, the white van – there are traces everywhere
How June makes the digital traces of Grace and Kevin visible is told very plausibly and quickly. You look at the monitor with her, you experience her video calls with Javi, you see the hacked chat or email histories of the two wanted people. June’s approach is professional, the effect exciting – there is a simultaneity of stillness and movement, everyday life and threat. Because June can view her mother’s holidays almost completely in virtual retrospect. And she finds the moment when bad men pull the two vacationers off the street and into a white van.
A kidnapping, that’s as far as the FBI is now. As a result, the case migrates to the news, which is added as a further level. However, the thriller is far from over, on the contrary. Surprisingly, he will take one turn after the other. This makes it an exciting scavenger hunt, in which much of what June successively uncovers cannot be foreseen, neither for her nor for the viewer. And yet every revelation, once made visible, is mostly understandable.
“Missing” is directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, who are familiar with the desktop film genre. They were the editor duo for the Movie “Searching”, which made quite a splash in 2018. It was similar in form and content, only in the opposite constellation: A father was looking for his missing daughter using the digital traces she left behind. Even then, it was demonstrated that evidence of a crime is often easier to find digitally than in reality, and that virtual detective work is possibly more efficient.
In the meantime, a pandemic and four years of technological development later, this is less spectacular than it was in 2018, but “Missing” shows something else, more contemporary. June’s investigation shows how quickly everyone’s existence becomes transparent – and that’s not limited to their personal, voluntary appearances on the Internet. The thought of anonymity becomes downright silly when hundreds of surveillance cameras across town and country, at every platform, at every intersection, are recording their videos, which can be hacked by any teenager. That’s extremely useful in a detective story. But it’s not reassuring.
missing, USA 2023 – Director: Will Merrick, Nick Johnson. Screenplay: Merrick & Johnson, based on a story by Aneesh Chaganty. Starring Storm Reid, Joaquim de Almeida, Nia Long, Ken Leung. Sony Pictures, 111 minutes. Theatrical release: February 23, 2023.