de facto film reviews 3 stars

Over the course of the 2010’s, we’ve seen more and more films using social media and technology as a tool for storytelling. After the “found footage” craze sizzled out, we saw films adapt and utilize different means of technology to tell the story. From the 2015 horror film Unfriended, told entirely from a laptop screen and perhaps the most successful example of this storytelling, dubbed as “Screenlife” is the 2018 indie sleeper hit Searching, told entirely from the perspective of a computer screen and other modern devices. The creators of that film have returned with a companion piece, not a sequel, that pushes the limits of what can be achieved with this style of filmmaking. Like Searching, this is far from a gimmick movie, and is another cleverly constructed and thrilling mystery for the social media age.

After her mom (Nia Long) goes missing on a trip to Colombia with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung), June (Storm Reid) attempts to finds her mother before its too late, using all the technology at her disposal. Like Searching, this is a true crime detective story that has a clear intelligence in how to use technology as a compelling framing device. Directors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson make their directorial debut after both editing Searching. Those skills are on clear display as its clear these guys understand the rhythm of the storytelling and how to build tension using everyday technology. Storm Reid’s June is far more digitally skilled than John Cho’s dedicated father in Searching, leading to a different approach to its pseudo-detective story.

June’s investigation leads her to try and hack into her moms gmail account, tracing her credit card statements, even searching for live cams of the Colombian tourist areas. Storm Reid’s impressive resume continues as she commands a large majority of the film. As our conduit into this mystery, Reid has to convey so much opposite just herself and she commands the frame. Its a technically impressive performance, with a naturalism that further grounds the emotional stakes. While using technology seen in Searching such as laptops cameras, FaceTime and Skype, this gets far more ambitious with its many perspectives. The filmmakers utilize screen recordings, social media such as Twitter and TikTok, a smart watch camera and countless other distinct angles all to expand the scope of the story.

Also written by Merrick and Johnson, alongside Searching filmmakers Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, the film does a clever job of consistently throwing believable red herrings at the audience to subvert expectations. The pacing moves at a breathless pace that barrels through the many crazy twists and turns that really does keep you on edge. There’s an added layer to wit to the script in how the disappearance of Nia Long’s Grace brings out the worst kinds of media sensationalism to the literal doorstep of Reid’s June. From the armchair detectives on TikTok to the conspiracy theories blasted all over Twitter, the filmmakers take a few well-positioned jabs at today’s true-crime media frenzies.

Both Missing and Searching share a distinct emotional core that is pervasively felt throughout the film. The script doesn’t shy away from tackling its themes of grief head on. You can feel the weight of our lead desperately attempting to find her mother after the Police continue to come up short. The strained relationship between June and her mom is given a real sense of pathos and both Reid and Nia Long commit to natural, layered performances.

Even if the finale approaches questionable believability, Missing is another terrifically engaging “Screenlife” thriller that excels in originality and vivid storytelling