January is often full of blah horror movies and C-level entertainment starring D-list actors. But every so often, there is a gem in the mix. This year has been surprisingly solid with M3GAN, Plane, and now Missing.
A Gimmick for a New Generation
Every decade has a gimmick for the horror/thriller genres. In the 2010s, it was found footage. Made popular by The Blair Witch Project, it got an even larger boom following the release of Paranormal Activity a decade later.
In recent years, we have seen an uptick of movies that take place entirely onscreen. And I’m not talking about the screen you are watching the movie on. The world of the story is taking place on phone screens, computer screens, etc. The audience is brought into the world through a POV as if we are viewing the screen within the story’s walls.
We have seen this in horror with the Unfriended movies and done most successfully in 2018’s Searching. 2023 has brought a new film that might as well be a sequel to Searching, even though its ties are very loose: Missing.
Investment in Answers
The set-up of Missing is simple. After her mom, Grace (Nia Long), and her boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), do not return from their romantic getaway, June (Storm Reid) sets out on a mission to find them. What follows is a thriller full of terrifying possibilities, frustrating dead ends, and exciting reveals.
Creating a film based around a POV gimmick like this one is a risk. On one hand, it allows the audience to feel thrusted into the mystery. Tension builds based on whether or not the character sees what we see onscreen. Begging June to click the file that might lead to an answer or go to a website that will open up new leads is a genuinely thrilling experience. On the other hand, this gimmick can get old very quickly if it is not done well.
Luckily for this movie, that’s not the case. The investment in the answer to the question of “where are Grace and Kevin?” is what separates Missing from others. The gimmick is used to its full potential, allowing viewers to stay engaged – hopeful, but nervous that the mystery will not be solved.
Keeping the idea feeling fresh, despite its familiarity, is the casting of Long and Reid. While there are others in the film who stand out (one in particular that I do not want to spoil), these two keep it grounded.
Long and Reid are fully believable as mother and daughter. Most importantly, as mother and daughter whose relationship has waned over time. They clearly come from a loving background but when we meet them, they are struggling to connect as parent and child. The uncertainty in their relationship and where it stands is important to keep the mystery moving, with several possibilities feeling realistic.
Beyond their character dynamics, Reid proves to be a genuine star. Having been in a handful of movies in the last five or so years, plus being featured on HBO’s Euphoria, this feels like her true coming out.
Although she is not alone for most of the movie, she is THE star. She is making moves, she is bouncing ideas off of others, she is using her wits to get to the bottom of everything. And she does so in such a charismatic way. I am really looking forward to seeing more from her in the future.
A January Gem
Overall, Missing proves to be more than its gimmick. In fact, it uses its gimmick to its advantage and proves that even the old can feel new again. Despite feeling quite similar to Searching, I was fully enthralled with Missing. If they can continue to make these mysteries as entertaining as these two movies, I will continue seeing them.
This is a real gem for the first part of the year.