Thursday 18 May 2023

Home alone too: "Missing"

The art of trailering is now so debased that anybody who saw the trailer for
Missing - and it was heavily trailered ahead of its release last month - could turn up an hour late to the feature proper and still know more or less what was going on. They would know, for one, that this is a sequel to 2018's Searching, which means that the bulk of the action we see unfolds as if on apps, screens and surveillance cameras. They would know that this is a brand-new story, about a teenager (Storm Reid, from cable TV's Euphoria) whose mom (Nia Long) disappears in the course of a weekend trip to Colombia. They would know this teen goes online to track mom's movements, and thus hopefully crack the mystery. And they would know the mystery very likely has something to do with mom's shadowy new beau (Ken Leung). It's the little details those latecomers would miss: the revelation that the events of the first movie have since been turned into a Netflix true-crime drama our heroine has been distractedly watching, her evident affection for her late father. Even so, for that first stretch, you really wouldn't be missing very much: it's a PG-13 version of what teens get up to when their folks are away, including but not necessarily limited to firing up Spotify, buying in weed, making plans to party, drinking, throwing up, sleeping off a colossal hangover, and initially failing to notice your folks have actually gone AWOL.

As co-written by Searching director Aneesh Chaganty and directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, Missing retains some of its predecessor's smarts. These films are good at showing us online thought processes being worked through in real time: pulling up Google Translate to make sense of an international phone call, doubling back to try established passwords on new sites of interest. It takes our heroine mere milliseconds to access info a PI like Philip Marlowe would need a full reel to dig up, and Merrick and Johnson can use the time saved to dive down disparate rabbit holes. Their film inverts Chaganty's original, which saw a digitally illiterate dad getting closer to his offspring, using her laptop as a map; here, daddy's girl Reid has to walk a mile in her mother's digital footprints, a trajectory that eventually involves sourcing and reading her guardians' online dating correspondence. (Be glad they kept it PG-13.) Yet for all the film's online toing-and-froing, and for all its polished cybersheen (websites bearing the name of actual websites, yay!), Missing perpetuates Searching's inbuilt conservatism; at heart, it's an afternoon TV movie rewired by tech bros. The messages stack up like spam email: keep your location settings toggled on at all times, trust the police, the FBI and Google (who are transparent and straightforward, unlike people), and don't go south of the border on your jollies, because - eek - men with guns. (Unlike, you know, North America.) It's busy enough to keep you from checking your own phone, which is a win of sorts, and Reid makes an engaging hub, but it visibly loses confidence in the all-screens conceit heading into the rote finale; once the novelty starts to wear off, you miss the heft of sustained interpersonal activity. These movies are fine for what they are - gimmicky distraction aimed at kids who can't leave their devices alone - but they're also something like The Fugitive if Tommy Lee Jones had tracked Harrison Ford via Find My Mobile and then sent an Uber to pick him up.

Missing is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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