Review: Newcomers Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick develop a computerized slow burner with “Missing” – one that will rope you in with twists left and right and a deeply impactful third act. Solid performances across the board make “Missing” one of the better releases early in 2023.
“Missing” is the latest film from Bazelevs Entertainment and Stage 6 Films in their tiny microcosm of computer screen-reliant genre mashups. It’s co-directed by Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick – both of whom have previous editing credits with films of this nature including “Searching.” This serves as both directors’ debuts and relies heavily on the charisma and marketability of leading star Storm Reid, who at this point has developed a deep backlog of acting nods, including “The Invisible Man,” “12 Years a Slave,” and “Euphoria.”
I imagine that most audience members going to see “Missing” have prior relationships with films created in this manner. Although some may see the digitized mechanism with which this film plays out to be a mere gimmick, I’ve found a few in this lane before that work well given the script and source material they’re working with. This style of filmmaking creates ingenuity and outside-thinking, and movies like “Host” and the “Unfriended” franchise create swaths of unique choices that pay off in the long run.
But at the same time, those are both horror films. They use the camera to build suspenseful plot pieces out of dark backgrounds and limited visibility. They are rarely story-reliant and mostly feed off gory kills and genuinely terrifying moments. “Missing” strives to achieve much more than that in its storytelling so there’s a much higher degree of difficulty when trying to pull it off. Needless to say, I was a bit worried for the undertaking that newcoming directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick were in for when trying to make the latest version of this technically heavy-handed film.
Combine that with a trailer that seemed to give away nearly every plot point and twist within “Missing,” I went in being optimistic, but also worried. While I mentioned that “Host” and “Unfriended” are mostly just successful genre entries, they’re still the best attempts that anyone has had making a film comprised entirely of computer screens. I’m not going into these films expecting that I forget that I’m looking at a screen the entire time – I actually want to be reminded of the opposite from time to time; that the characters and storylines are only able to be achieved through this blanket of style and form.
With that being said, I can report back that I found “Missing” to be remarkably effective as both a genre thriller and an emotionally potent drama about a mother and daughter’s disconnected relationship. Many of the preconceived notions that I had about films made in this style were quickly wiped away by how fresh and seemingly invested the editing is in current internet trends – “Missing” pulls out all the stops to overwhelm the viewer. In a way, the film is quite extravagant and overtly suggestive about the limitless abilities that the internet can achieve.
Emotional beats are littered throughout “Missing” and most of them are successfully handled and delivered. Storm Reid and her mother (played by the always delightful Nia Long) have a mesmerizing mother/daughter connection that rings true throughout each interaction between the two. By the end, you’ve been taken on a rollercoaster of emotions that truly binds you to each character. Because you can’t quite immerse yourself with quippy camera shots or technically brilliant establishing ones, the film really relies on these character connections to get you through it all.
There’s one character that Storm Reid’s June consistently interacts with in order to gain information from a different continent. That would be contract worker and freelancer Javier, who’s brought to life by the increasingly friendly and sociable Joaquim de Almeida. “Missing” strains often to deliver one more plot twist or revelation, so the connection between June and Javier carries a large portion of the plot in the beginning sections of the film.
“Missing” also goes to incredible lengths to show the depths and strengths of the internet. It’s made known early on that June is an avid consumer of true crime television and podcasts, and the film is heavy-handed in showing every software application or website domain that could possibly help you solve the disappearance of anyone you know. This may be one of the film’s weakest parts, because while you are pulled into the scheme emotionally, deep down you know this could never possibly happen or that June would never be able to pull off an investigation like this.
The film also takes a deep turn in terms of content in the third act. It’s not necessarily bad, but it goes to much darker lengths to discuss subject matter that doesn’t feel symmetrical to the branches of plotlines it sets up much earlier. I felt that the final showdown may have been more riveting if the film hadn’t tried to turn you against its protagonists time and time before. Setting the ground rules early on may have led for an easier resolution in the third act with clearer stakes.
But overall, really dug what first time directors Johnson and Merrick were able to conjure up with “Missing.” It’s a noticeable step up in terms of storytelling and ambition, and performances by Storm Reid and Nia Long match the drive and forward momentum that the filmmakers set up early on. I’m not sure that this is the best version of a film told solely through a computer screen that we’re going to get, but the stakes were just raised much higher by a studio that seems committed to making this a robust option.