Digital storytelling format is highly effective again
Aneesh Chaganty’s minimalist Searching (2018) set a pretty high standard for a relatively new storytelling format. With Missing, the filmmaker settled as the writer/producer and handed over the reins to Nick Johnson and Will Merrick. It is safe to say that Missing follows a mostly similar path as Searching with familiar themes and narrative outlay.
Storm Reid, who was most recently seen in episode 7 of The Last of Us, stars as June Allen. This time around, the tables turn and it is the daughter looking for her mother.
The feeling of familiarity is fully exploited in Missing. Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty were smart not to change the setup and themes too much. Mostly, some updated technological advancements have found their way into the story and influenced it quite sweepingly. Take a breath before you start watching how easy it is to gain access to your private stuff on the internet.
Even though the point of Missing is not to paint a dark picture of the endless possibilities, that element becomes an important and memorable takeaway from the film.
One of Missing’s greatest strengths is its ability to keep the audience guessing. The plot is full of twists and turns, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, another surprise is thrown your way. This keeps the tension high throughout and makes for a genuinely engaging experience. It must be said that even though the story is more complex, it comes at a cost.
The subtext is a little compromised as a result but definitely not a deal-breaker. The role reversal brings a new level of vulnerability and tech-savvy to the screen too. June makes for a more compelling anchor to the story because of her profile. One can even purport that had it been David Kim – the protagonist from the previous movie – he would not have been able to get very far.
The volatility in her emotional and mental state is starkly different from Kim’s. It places the viewers, especially younger ones, in a more relatable position relative to the story. With that in mind, there is a sense of stereotyping in some aspects of teen life today by Chaganty. That allows some convenient characterization of Grace and her friends, aiding the storytelling effort. But none of the pitfalls of Missing can be said to bring it down.
Most flaws are excusable and do not affect Missing foundationally. Editing is once again top-notch to make the experience of watching the film and following the plot seamlessly. We switch from one window to the other with great efficiency and purpose. There are a few missteps along the way but nothing too serious. Ironically, the editors from Searching are directors in Missing – Merrick and Johnson.
There are some internal potshots as well by Chaganty and Ohanian. Unfiction, the parodical true-crime series that takes place in Missing’s universe streams on Netflix and not Prime Video, the platform on which Missing is available to stream. It was rumoured a few years ago that Netflix had picked up to finance and distribute the sequel but clearly, the deal fell through.
The meta touch is in good taste and is an overall part of the truncated funny vein of Missing. There was some more promise to be extracted from that genre within the storytelling but Missing “misses” the point of that.
Storm Reid is exceptional as June, making for a reliable protagonist like John Cho in Searching. It is ironic that we get to see her star in a central role after seeing glimpses of her feisty personality as Riley in The Last of Us. She is comfortable across the spectrum of emotions, hardly showing any weaknesses in expressing June’s mental state. She is supported well by Amy Landecker (Heather), Nia Long (Grace), and Tim Griffin (James).
Missing is a simple-minded highly effective standalone sequel to Searching with its own story to tell. The foyer of familiarity drives home the point of a trusted narrative approach, making it yet another compelling watch from Aneesh Chaganty’s growing stature of work.
Read More: Missing Ending Explained