Stage 6 Films, 2023
Nicholas D. Johnson, Will Merrick, Sev Ohanian
📷 : Used with Permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows about drugs or with disorienting presentations
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
As adults, we sometimes carry grudges against our parents for all kinds of things. As time passes, we either shake them off or become increasingly incensed. “How could Mom possibly do that?” “Well, she didn’t do this!” “Mom likes you better than me.” In our complaints, we former kids come off as omniscient, as if we had a complete understanding of the nuances of parenting as preadolescents and teenagers. The film, Missing, humbles us by letting us know that as kids, we understood little about the decisions parents made to do what was best for their children.
At first glance, a movie where the audience spends half the duration of the film looking at the reflection of the lead actor in monitors and mobile phone screens seems inconceivable, corny, and unappealing. Well actually, all are still true. However, Missing evolves into a suspenseful thriller about a woman who goes missing and her daughter’s efforts to find her. Along the way, the film reinforces the intended function of technology, which is to serve as tools that not only simplify our lives but, when used optimally, can help with challenging and arduous tasks.
Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time, Euphoria) plays June, a tech-savvy 18-year-old occasionally irritated by her mother’s tendency to fuss over her. Insistent on calling and texting to check on her, Grace, June’s single mom played by Nia Long (The Best Man: The Final Chapters, Look Both Ways), is loving but also obsessed with keeping her only child safe. While June is a normal older teen with the obligatory best friend and a healthy peer group, she experiences moments of melancholy when sitting in front of her oversized computer monitors. Pulling up a home video of her late father James, whom she was close to as a young child, helps us understand that she still grieves his loss.
On this day, Grace is excitedly preparing for a vacation in Cartagena, Columbia with Kevin, her sedate partner played by Ken Leung (Industry, Lost). Not as adept as her daughter at technology, Grace inadvertently Facetimes June instead of calling her. Flustered, Grace explains to June when she will return and asks her to pick them up at LAX. June replies in the affirmative with strong hints of annoyance and sarcasm in her tone – “Yes ma’am.” Sound familiar?
The mood of the film suddenly turns ominous when Grace and Kevin do not get off the plane from their scheduled flight, and June’s efforts to reach them are in vain. Planting herself in front of her computer, we see her reflection in the monitors for much of the film as she desperately makes phone calls, sends texts, and breaks into emails for clues on their whereabouts. In this sense, Missing brings to mind the 2018 film, A Simple Favor, with Anna Kendrick as Stephanie, a vlogger who uses technology to locate Emily, a missing woman played by Blake Lively.
Providing background noise, or what can also be viewed as the soundtrack for Missing, is the familiar sound of computer work, such as telephone ringing, text message bubble bursting, and fingernails hitting the keyboard. In addition to the audio, the film also provides an unorthodox movie experience with doorbell cameras and video chats. For example, June has video chats with personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Columbia and also with Javier, a messenger in Cartagena played by Joaquim de Almeda (Warrior Nun, Queen of the South).
Through the video interactions, the audience is given the sense of remote work. Images of Columbians in outdoor settings reveal the architecture and the bright and clear days. People moving about in short sleeves and tank tops indicate the hot temperatures. And the honking of horns gives a sense of the city as busy and congested. The effect of these combined with the aforementioned soundtrack, gives the sense of watching a movie within a movie. So rather than the audience being contained to June’s room to stare at her reflection for much of the film, Missing uses video images to provide a sense of movement in the film, not to mention an international flair.
Despite her deftness at technology, June becomes frustrated when she can neither get the answers she wants nor the help she needs. She is at the mercy of people who sympathize but do not share her urgency in finding Grace. One example of this is her need to see the hotel’s security camera video before it loops. While the embassy worker does take June’s call, he does not sufficiently engage to be of help. Javi, on the other hand, will, but for a price. Through these experiences, June realizes that technology and the skills to use them are powerful, but both have their limits when you don’t know what you don’t know. At some point, footwork and face-to-face engagement are necessary to find the answers to questions you don’t know to ask.
What is uncovered in this virtual-to-reality thriller blindsides us, leaving us with the all too familiar epiphany that we ignore as children and young adults. We might think we’re smarter than our parents, but we don’t know anything.