Screenlife Sequel To The Thriller ‘Searching’ With Storm Reid Never Quite Connects

Jan 26, 2023

Like “Searching” back in 2018, the standalone sequel “Missing” has again embattled another only child with one dead parent. Only this time, it’s the alive parent who finds themselves at the center of a viral, true crime mystery. Killed by the same illness of lymphoma as Margot Kim’s mother Pam – whose story in director Aneesh Chaganty’s previous film is touched upon in a brief excerpt from a fictional true crime series: “Unfiction” – June Allen’s (Storm Reid), father left her and her mother’s lives at a young age. Now a teenager, she lives alone with her mother, Grace (Nia Long), in Van Nuys, California, where the pair endure a typical prickly teenager-parent relationship made all the pricklier due to June’s lasting resentments towards her mom for the choices she made after her dad’s death. Grace’s new boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), is by no means found favorable by her angsty daughter, but their coupling does provide one positive development: the two are taking a romantic, week-long trip to Colombia, leaving June alone in the house over summer vacation. What could possibly go wrong?
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Well, everything, obviously, and then some. After a week-long, motherless escapade culminating with a debaucherous rager at her house, June wakes up to the unwanted realization she must pick up her mom and Kevin at the airport. Only, they never show up. June calls her mom, but FaceTime is shown as unavailable. Grace isn’t answering her texts, and after a phone call to the hotel, June discovers that Grace and Kevin left all their luggage in their room. Resourceful and keeping panic at bay, June calls the American Embassy for help. Proving themselves sluggish to work within the timeframe June needs to get the hotel surveillance footage before it expires, she hires a Colombian GoNinja tasker named Javi (Joaquim de Almeida) to help her investigate from miles away. In the meantime, Grace’s friend Heather (Amy Landecker) gets her in contact with an FBI agent named Elijah Park (Daniel Henney), who ends up proving himself slightly less useful than Javi. Though Javi reaches the hotel after the footage is already gone, he becomes an invaluable, on-the-ground asset in June’s search for Grace, a quest which has enough wild twist and turns to outdo the true crime craze it’s clearly attempting to recall.
With Chaganty out of the picture for the “Searching” franchise’s follow-up installment (aside from a lone story co-credit), dual directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick, who both worked on “Searching” as editors, now helm “Missing.” Filmed in the same laptop and smartphone-bound style as the first film, Merrick and Johnson’s stylistic approach to the desktop movie format is strikingly different than Chaganty’s. With some liberties taken, Chaganty seemed to do his relative best to keep the computer screen as realistically cinematic as possible. Meaning what was made cinematic was kept largely within the confines of computer and smartphone functionality, with some added close-ups, zooms, and escalation of dramatic music that can’t help but seem funny when one is merely watching the click of a mouse. Merrick and Johnson play around more heavily with the rules that Chaganty created, doing more to purposefully make the film’s chosen format more exciting and movie-like. Doing so creates a film that is far busier, far more throwing, and often feels like it betrays the purpose of the format altogether.
Take, for example, the montage articulation of June’s week-long, motherless escapades, which could be enough to induce disorientation and seizures in those not prone to epileptic fits. It’s a cacophony of editing and visual noise, none of which are theoretically possible from the confines of an iPhone or computer without the help of, say, Premiere Pro. But June isn’t using Premiere Pro; she’s just a teenager using her tech. The strength of the computer-screen-as-film approach is its potential for creativity within its parameters: the characterization that can be surmised from a neglected desktop note or a paused YouTube video or the clever ways that the filmmaker can expand the story outward from the confines of one’s home where their laptop is otherwise situated. The way that Merrick and Johnson try to push the format to be more visually interesting only ends up making it feel like the approach was somewhat pointless even to try to maintain in this sequel. Not to mention, the directors have an exceedingly hard time authentically reproducing internet culture and chatspeak so that it mostly reads as “How do you do, fellow kids?”
The acting performances are all pretty much fine across the board, though it’s hard to say whether Storm Reid quite has the chops to carry a film. Then again, this evaluation has to be considered against what can be achieved in the video chat structure, which can’t help but come off as stilted and awkward as actors attempt to replicate the experience of FaceTiming to consistently mixed results. Most technical or acting quibbles can, in a sort of brain-turn-offy way, be excused for pure entertainment found in the rollercoaster plot. But like “Searching,” “Missing” has something tenuous it wants to say underneath its shocking mystery about viral social media culture and the true crime craze; how our social media culture is too prone to exploiting real peoples’ pain for clout and consumption. But if there was an inkling of profundity in this regard in “Searching,” there’s none of it to be found in “Missing,” which functions more like a direct copy of true crime rather than an interrogation of it. The nods to true crime shows and TikTok talking heads are all more like a feature of the film rather than a means of parody. Indeed, so too are “Searching,” and “Missing” are more products of the true-crime era than the satires they want to be. [C+]
“Missing” opens in theaters on January 20 via Sony Pictures.

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