Tapping into the screen life film genre, ones shot and edited as if they’re entirely recorded on a computer desktop, has become something of a risky niche as of late due to the evergrowing interactions with technology. But, thus far, most of the recent ones have stood out for their abilities to attempt variations on how to tell a narrative through one (or multiple) high-tech devices. Unfriended had a fun, refreshing spin on the common usage of Skype and the heightening times of cyber-bullying/online harassment. Its sequel, Dark Web, in 2018, toggled with the dark environments of the dark web and cybercriminal activity. Searching packed a noteworthy punch, thanks to an excellent direction and commendable performance from John Cho.
And, we now pivot to Missing, a standalone sequel that brings back Searching‘s editors, Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson, to write and direct the entire feature, one that is quite authentic and has an adequately entertaining battery-life span.
The plot follows June Allen (Storm Reid), an eighteen-year-old daughter living with her mother, Grace (Nia Long) after her father passed away over a decade ago. When Grace goes on a trip to Colombia with her new boyfriend, Kevin Lin (Ken Leung) but doesn’t return, June’s searches for answers on her mother’s whereabouts are hindered by international laws, financial limitations, and vague technological interactions that leave her scrambling for answers before it’s too late. However, June’s frantic sleuthing uncovers more mysteries, and she’s left wondering if she knows what’s being hidden away from her life.
The marketing may have divulged too much to audiences already hooked on this genre, but thankfully, the directors have some tricks up their sleeves in allowing the narrative to play out carefully. The integral conflict between parental love/adolescent realization remains strong, and Reid conveys that momentum with a sullen, focused attitude that doesn’t tip into corniness or an obnoxious melodrama. Merrick and Johnson get to have doses of fun by zooming in on the utilization of common web browsers (Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, WhatsApp) and show a world of practicality and sentimentality. It’s an intellectual insight into how the practices and conformities of modern technology have enraptured our focus that we pull out several tricks to find the answers we seek.
However, the feature gets contrived with its reliance on twisty collections of set-ups and payoffs before we get somewhere. What could’ve been solved in fifteen minutes turns out to be a week-long assignment, or it pressures on to suspend disbelief if we can genuinely believe that all captured on modern surveillance can showcase every single angle needed to understand. True, some elements remain justifiable to catch us off-guard, but some can undeniably be nitpicked for immaterial footage or moments. The red herrings simply repress the tension, and it only comes back when the script calls for rather than a consistent manner.
Missing is thrilling enough to warrant a ride, though. With a notable performance from Reid and strengths from Merrick and Johnson, it’s another step in the right direction of uncovering humanity’s rising digitalization.