The “screenlife” genre of films has had a bad reputation for a long time, but 2018’s Searching and its anthology sequel, Missing, have changed that. Both films utilise the concept innovatively, from staying accurate to the technology used by their characters to tell a story that’s believable within the confines of the genre’s limitations. After delivering a breakout hit with Searching, director Aneesh Chaganty gives the reigns to his writing duo for the sequel, and it’s hard to tell this was a first-time directorial venture!
I went into Missing completely blind, only knowing that it has rising star Storm Reid as its lead, and I’ll highly recommend anyone getting into these films to do the same. Flipping the script off Searching, Missing follows teenager June Allen (Reid) as she tries to figure out her mother’s (Nia Long) disappearance during her vacation with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung). Like the last film, Missing opens with a short sequence that quickly catches you up on where June and her mother’s relationship stands when the plot kicks off.
Storytelling in Missing is entirely through virtual screens, and that’s a tough act, even with the experience the crew had with Searching. With that, how much window for innovation is there? Well, it turns out there’s quite a bit. Directors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson use clever tricks and find new ways to employ traditional camera techniques in the virtual layers of website browsers and webcam windows. There’s one particular dolly zoom shot that is just genius in its execution, yet so simple in its craft when you think about it. There’s tons of shots here that make great use of the limited set design, with blocking taking into account not only the small, mostly isolated cast but also the arrangement of windows and apps on the screen.
Missing is another strong outing from the team, if you liked Searching you'll enjoy this. A little uneven towards the end, not quite as tight as OG, but there's enough style you wouldn't doubt it's by first time feature directors ft. a strong performance by Storm!— Rahul Majumdar (@darthrahul) February 24, 2023
Go watch it! pic.twitter.com/WeHqAgqsRU
Searching’s point of view was about how an older generation may fumble around technology, while Missing is the complete opposite, reveling the chaos that Gen Z finds normalcy in. Instagram reels, TikTok videos, Missing’s editing has this impressive energy around it where you never miss a beat but get all the info you want within a matter of seconds. It’s hard to keep an audience engaged for two hours in a contemporary setting; it’s extra hard to do it in this format. There’s also new tools used throughout the story, from using home security feeds to local services apps to live cams to propel the narrative forward.
Missing’s cast of characters is interesting, with Joaquim Almedia’s Javier being a standout. June is a smart girl who’s quick-witted, so it’s nice for once not to shout at the screen telling characters what to do. While the backstory and character work on her friends and family is underwhelming, it’s not too distracting as it’s not the focus of the story here. Storm Reid delivers a fantastic performance given what she has to work with, as the lack of on-set co-actors to bounce reactions off is not an easy situation. Nevertheless, I never doubted that she wasn’t on a facetime call with the various people she meets throughout the course of the film.
While the film kept me on my toes throughout, it did start to lose me towards the end. Searching’s plot concluded in such a tight, satisfactory ending that one-upping it here introduces some problems. I’m not really a fan of how Missing ends, as it limps towards a classic B-movie plot twist that I could’ve done without. Regardless, it’s less about the ending and more about the journey that matters, and that’s one I enjoyed.
Missing is playing in Indian cinemas this week; I highly recommend you check it out.