"Missing" stars Storm Reid, Joaquim de Almeida, Ken Leung, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, and Nia Long. Released on January 20, 2023, the film has a teenager using various technologies to find her missing mother.
The film features the directorial debuts of Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, the editors of "Searching" and "Run". It is the standalone sequel to the 2018 film "Searching". It's been said that technology is used to seek online popularity and explore different types of social media. However, there are also times when technology is relied upon to save people's lives, whether they're kidnapped or missing. One of those cases, in particular, is a small techno-thriller about a father using various computers and smartphones to find his daughter. That film is "Searching", which put Aneesh Chaganty on the Hollywood map due to his unique direction and use of clever twists. The movie's positive reception and box office success resulted in it spawning a sequel that puts a new set of characters in that familiar and frightening scenario. Since I loved "Searching", it's evident that I wouldn't want to pass this up despite Chaganty not returning to direct it. So was this standalone sequel able to match the tension and enjoyability of its predecessor's timely elements? Let's find out.
The story follows June Allen (Reid), a rebellious teenager who's left alone in Los Angeles while her mother, Grace (Long), goes on vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend, Kevin Lin (Leung). After a night of partying, June goes to the airport to wait for Grace's return. The problem is Grace hasn't gotten off the plane, let alone arrived in Los Angeles. June later discovers that Grace has mysteriously disappeared in Colombia, resulting in her hiring the FBI and a Colombian man named Javier Ramos (de Almeida) for help. June also relies on various devices and online information to find out what happened to Grace. But as the search progresses, June's sleuthing leads her to discover shocking secrets about Grace, making her question her relationship with her mother.
Before watching "Searching", I figured it would be another disposable found-footage movie with the events being told from a computer screen's perspective. But, to my surprise, it managed to prove me otherwise. It had the same presentation as the other movies with a similar format, like "Unfriended", but it was used effectively to portray a thrilling and well-written depiction of a father solving his daughter's disappearance. What made it stand out from the others was the surprising amount of emotion in the relationship between a father and his daughter and the twists that'll quickly fool its first-timers. These elements, along with its underlying themes and a compelling cast led by John Cho, made "Searching" one of the most surprisingly great thrillers of 2018 and one of the best movies from the "screenlife" genre. So there's no doubt that there's pressure surrounding its standalone sequel looking to recapture the horrifying experience and expectations set by its predecessor.
The main thing to know about "Missing" is that it follows the same plot as "Searching", which is someone using clues and information from computers and phones to find their loved one. It's undoubtedly one of the rules of "sequel-making 101". However, it made a few changes to stand out from "Searching". The most notable difference is the role reversal. Instead of a parent searching for their missing daughter, it's the daughter that has to solve the mystery of her parent's sudden disappearance. You better watch out because this sequel's got guts. Maybe in the third film, they'll have someone attempt to find their missing sibling. The possibilities are endless. But, of course, the movie has to have a worthy storyline to warrant these changes and its existence, which it did. Although it's a far cry from what "Searching" accomplished, the sequel is just as entertaining and thrilling as you'd expect from the modern twisty techno-thriller.
"Searching" works for me because it represents the fear of a loved one disappearing for no reason. It's a horrible feeling that leaves one anxious about what's happening to that person, especially when they're not with them. The choice of having the visual storytelling set on any screen offered a unique and profound perspective on the scenario and the character's inner thoughts and feelings. It also reflects on how social media reacts to that situation through theories, rumors, or anything else. More importantly, that film effectively displays grief and loss and how they affect the relationship between a parent and their child. "Missing" quickly takes those elements from the 2018 film and applies them to its own unnerving plot. The result is a familiar yet highly watchable sequel that'll have you put in happy and shock emojis on your phone for days.
Regarding the relationship between June and Grace, "Missing" does struggle to match the level of emotion that "Searching" delivered for John Cho's David Kim and Michelle La's Margot. However, that doesn't mean the effort wasn't there. There were enough heartfelt moments between June and Grace to make me smile amid its well-executed tension. Part of that is due to the direction of Nick Johnson and Will Merrick. Since the two have worked with Chaganty for "Searching" as editors, they should clearly know that storytelling is as important as the thrills. Fortunately, Johnson and Merrick found that balance easily, with a good amount of intensity, intrigue, and heart to keep my attention. However, it does feel a bit too long compared to "Searching", which ran at a respectable 102 minutes long, with "Missing" being ten minutes longer. Luckily, the pacing kept things smooth without losing its wi-fi connection halfway through.
Next, I would credit the film for its editing, mainly for its "screenlife" presentation. From what I remember, some movies I watched from that genre, including "Unfriended", only show the entire computer screen throughout the whole runtime. "Searching" took a different approach in having several close-up shots at specific parts of a screen, including the messages, FaceTime, and even the toolbar. That approach thankfully exists in "Missing", especially when it switches to different screens for a couple of sequences. While it isn't anything too special, the editing does make the visual narrative look more lively. The sound editing also works by providing the authenticity of using specific devices, including a cell phone.
The movie also continues to display the diversity of its cast, with Storm Reid and Nia Long leading the group instead of John Cho in "Searching". More importantly, it makes solid use of the actors' talent, delivering a couple of standouts from the cast. One of them is Storm Reid, who provided a compelling performance from start to finish as June. Like how John Cho envisioned David in "Searching", Reid suitably captures the fear and worrisome that June developed as she searches for answers about her mother's whereabouts. Another standout was Joaquim de Almeida, who offered a very charming performance as Javier. Nia Long and Ken Leung were also decent in their roles as Grace and Kevin Lin, respectively.
Finally, I want to briefly mention the film's twists, which played a crucial part in the predecessor's success. What made the surprises work in "Searching" is how they constantly manipulate the audience into believing they have already figured out the mystery before the film does. But then the movie slaps you with another clue that leads to something more shocking than before. Everyone likes a good mystery, but they also love a mystery that stays in their minds after the credits roll. Johnson and Merrick, who also wrote the screenplay, managed to take that to heart when making "Missing", resulting in another series of twisty and surprising events that'll leave you in awe. Unfortunately, they didn't come close to being as everlasting as the ones in "Searching" regarding how well they connect to its commentaries. However, the surprises in "Missing" are still effective in delivering the necessary tension and shock value, even if they are a tad complex sometimes.
Overall, "Missing" relies on its predecessor's clever elements to create another entertaining and consistently tense addition to the "screenlife" movie playlist. Unfortunately, the sequel's approach to its plot and characters doesn't quite match what "Searching" delivered regarding its flawed screenplay. However, it's still admirable in maintaining the relatability and fears of the scenario, which adds to the engaging thrills and decent twists. From its talented cast onscreen to Johnson and Merrick's handling of its visual storytelling, the standalone follow-up makes a solid connection to those wanting another heart-pounding experience this winter. It's also another film that managed to avoid getting the "January Movie Curse" this year, which is good because I already got that from the "House Party" reboot last weekend. We don't need another lousy film to ruin that good streak. So if you enjoyed "Searching" or any other movie that takes place on a computer screen, I recommend you log into this one.