Most movies emphasize the dangers of technology. We’re slaves to our phones. Twitter is rotting our brain cells. It’s only a matter of time until Skynet takes over. Those assessments aren’t wrong per se, but does every movie need to be the tablet version of Reefer Madness? 2018’s Searching not only presented a positive portrayal of modern technology, but it did so in a refreshing, visually-inspired way. Granted, it might not have been the first project to set itself within the confines of computer screens and smartphones. Unfriended, The Den, and even Modern Family helped lay the groundwork for the screenlife genre. In terms of performances, suspense, and overall execution, though, Searching remains the nail-biter to beat.
Costing less than $1 million to produce, Searching grossed more than $75 million. Given that intake, it’s surprising that Sony has waited five years to produce a sequel, even with the pandemic delaying things. Missing serves as a spiritual successor with a new cast and new directors, although Aneesh Chaganty returns as a producer. The screen time setup remains the same and for its first twenty minutes, Missing runs the risk of repeating too much from Searching. Once again, we open with a family torn apart as June Allen’s father endures a nosebleed. Growing up to be played by Storm Reid, June feels distant from her mother Grace (Nia Long). June rejoices when Grace goes to Colombia with her boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung). After Grace misses her flight home, though, June starts to regret the last passive text she sent her mom.
With another departed parent and missing family member, Missing initially treads on familiar territory. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for Missing to distinguish itself. Like John Cho, Reid carries much of the film with the strength of her acting. Even when somebody has potentially been kidnapped, sitting at a computer doesn’t sound inherently interesting. Thanks to Reid’s performance and clever editing, though, we’re genuinely invested with every click of the mouse. Reid isn’t alone either. She finds a dedicated TaskRabbit in Joaquim de Almeida’s Javier, who helps investigate Grace’s disappearance. June initially pays Javier what little she has by the hour. As the job goes into overtime, Javier comes to care more about June than the money.
Although June rarely leaves her computer’s side, Missing feels surprisingly expansive as she utilizes the web’s wide range of resources to piece together the mystery. We frequently talk about how far technology has come. Watching June use Google Maps, social media, and live webcam sites, though, we see how anyone with wi-fi can be an amateur sleuth these days. Missing also manages to bring out the intensity in the simplest actions. A key example finds June trying to log into her mother’s email, running out of password attempts. In most cases, that’s a mild inconvenience. In this scenario, it could mean never seeing a loved one again.
Missing works as both an effective mother-daughter drama and a compelling mystery. Several suspicious characters will have the audience flipping back and forth. Just when you think Missing has taken its most shocking turn, another bombshell awaits. Directors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick effectively juggle each twist, building to a third act that feels earned. Like Searching, Missing keeps finding new ways to top itself. Time will only tell if this franchise can continue to do the same, but for now, Missing will have you glued to the silver screen.