Back in 2018, there was a movie called Searching. It kicked ass. The film got near-unanimous critical raves at time of release. I myself picked it out as my Top Masterpiece of that year. The film singlehandedly redefined cinematic storytelling through online technology and media, cracking a problem filmmakers had been struggling with for decades up to that point. The film told such a thrilling crime suspense story in such a new and hip and immersive way that it had the potential to change the game irrevocably.
And then… nothing happened. At the time, everybody KNEW that John Cho’s career was headed for a huge renaissance, and pretty much all we’ve gotten from him since was that ill-fated “Cowboy Bebop” adaptation. Debra Messing has likewise stayed mostly dormant, aside from making a humorous cameo appearance as herself in Bros, and none of the other major actors in Searching even have a Wikipedia page yet. The writing/directing team of Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian have only made one movie in the time since, and it went nowhere. Though in all fairness, Run got dumped onto Hulu in 2020 and quickly got lost in the COVID-era streaming dogpile.
(Side note: Never forget 2020. Never repeat 2020.)
Seriously, by the end of 2018, it felt like I was the only one who thought to put Searching on my year-end list. Nobody else talked about this movie, nobody referenced it, and no other movie pulled from Chaganty’s new playbook. It’s like everybody loved this movie and forgot about it within a few short months. But now Chaganty and Ohanian have finally come back with a kind of pseudosequel.
To clarify, Missing helpfully opens with a shout-out to the events of Searching. It’s thus established that there’s no other crossover between the two films, the previous film has no bearing on this new story, and none of the previous film’s characters play any role here whatsoever, but the second film just happens to take place later within the same continuity. Got all that? Let’s get started.
Storm Reid stars as June, a freshly-minted 18-year-old who just started summer break. More importantly, Father’s Day is coming up and that brings back memories of June’s own late father (James, played by Tim Griffin) who passed away some time ago of a brain tumor. Adding insult to injury, June’s mother (Grace, played by Nia Long) won’t even be in the country to mark the occasion — she’s flying off to goddamn Colombia with her latest boyfriend (Kevin, played by Ken Leung) while her daughter is grieving. Thus June spends the weekend blowing her mother’s money on wild alcohol-fueled parties with her dumb little buddies.
Then Monday comes around, and Grace’s plane comes in. Except that Grace isn’t on board. Neither is Kevin. Naturally, legal channels are of virtually no assistance investigating a missing persons case in another country, thus June takes matters into her own hands, using all manner of tech-savvy tools and tricks — some more legal than others — in her own investigation.
Without getting too technical or too deep into spoilers, we soon come to learn that Kevin has a criminal history and may or may not be up to his old con artist routine. Or something even worse. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The reversals and reveals in this movie are fucking nuts. The deeper June digs, the more we find out everything we thought we knew up to that point is wrong. By the time we get to that mind-blowing twist into the third act, June and the audience have completely lost all sense of who can be trusted. I can’t remember the last time I saw a story this convoluted and yet so comprehensible. This is such a massively complicated scheme with so many moving parts, yet the explanation and rationale behind it all is so aggressively simple. It’s not just a work of art, it’s a goddamn work of genius.
Every single performance is dynamic. Every shot, every cut, every plot device, every animation is some new inspired way of telling the story without taking us away from a screen. It all adds up to a film that serves as a thrilling and intelligent commentary on all the ways that our online activity and what’s in our hard drives can be used and abused. All the ways that we can use it to our own benefit, and all the ways it can be used against us.
Basically put, it’s like everything that made Searching so great, but cranked up to a global scale. While Searching was primarily limited to San Jose, Missing spans multiple continents. Moreover, while John Cho played a distraught husband with his own friends and family to lean on, Storm Reid is playing a barely legal adult with no extended family and no adult friends to depend on. All she’s got is her mother’s lawyer (Heather, played by Amy Landecker), and it’s not entirely clear how useful or trustworthy she can be. Oh, and there’s a very real chance that June could get mobbed by reporters or even fucking killed if she steps outside her house.
Put simply, by virtue of this movie’s broader scope and more isolated protagonist, this is a story that leans so much harder on the online connection. This is a character who is physically incapable of getting the help she needs unless she uses the right apps and reaches out to the right people. Thus it makes even more effective use out of the setting and themes of a virtual world.
Storm Reid has long since proven herself a marvelous young talent and she makes impeccable use of this starring vehicle. The other MVP here is Joaquim de Almeida, here playing a total stranger who agrees to serve as June’s boots on the ground in Colombia. He delivers a neatly heartfelt and earnest performance, especially as Javier becomes a steadfast emotional support for June.
There’s precious little more that I can say about Missing without spoiling anything crucial. I can only offer my most emphatic recommendation to see both Missing and Searching as quickly as possible. Not because you need one to understand and appreciate the other — you don’t — but because these are both exceptional movies that deserve far more and far better than they’ve gotten.
The first movie was a stellar suspense thriller with heartbreaking character drama, presented in an innovative way that delivered incisive commentary on life in an online world. The second movie delivers all of that and more in a way that demands to be seen. Get to this movie IMMEDIATELY.