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"9-1-1, what is your emergency?"
"My mom never came home from her trip. I don't know where she is."

There have only been two occasions in my life where I walked out of a movie and could truly say that I had never seen anything like it before. The first was Inception. This was the second.

June (Storm Reid) is a recent high school graduate living in Los Angeles. She lost her father at an early age, and has been raised by a single mom, Grace (Nia Long). As in any parent-teen relationship, there are a few tensions. June thinks Grace is uncool – she doesn't quite have the hang of using Siri, for one thing – and stiflingly overprotective, and really resents it when Grace calls her "Junebug." A further point of tension is Grace's boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung), who is taking Grace to Cartagena, Columbia for a romantic vacation, leaving June behind. June is particularly stung because Grace will be away on Father's Day, when she feels the absence of her father most acutely.

Having been admonished by Grace not to throw any parties, June of course conspires with her friends to do exactly that, turning the entire week into a series of underage binge-drinking events. June wakes up hung over on the Monday after Father's Day...

... quickly engages a cleaning service online to remove the evidence of the previous evening's debauchery, and scrambles to get to the airport, only to find that Grace and Kevin were never on the plane. Worse yet, neither of them is answering their phones or responding to text messages. Terrified that she might have lost her mother, June calls 911, then the hotel in Cartagena –which Kevin and Grace left without taking their luggage – then the US embassy in Bogota. When the official investigation into Grace's disappearance proves to be a slow-moving process, June uses TaskRabbit to hire Javier (Joaquim de Almeida), a local handyman in Cartagena, to do some on-the-spot looking around while she employs every available weapon in the information age arsenal – Google, Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facetime, Adobe Reader, dating applications, Outlook, streaming video, even the Ring doorbell camera and Siri – to do some investigating of her own.

That's a promising start for a popcorn movie. What elevates Missing above the usual is the way the story is told: through video calls, websites, and application windows. Everything that you see is taking place on a screen: a laptop, a smartphone, or an HDTV. Nearly all of it was filmed – if you can even call digital video "filming" anymore – with iPhones, laptop cameras, the Ring doorbell camera, and an Apple Watch. It's a technique called "screenlife," and while it's been around for over twenty years, this was the first time I've ever encountered it.

However, all the slick visuals and innovative storytelling tactics in the world are no good without a good story to tell, and Missing has a good one. It moves fast, with unexpected twists and turns and surprising revelations coming one on top of the other. More importantly, Storm Reid gives such a strong performance that you can't help but be totally drawn in to her story.

Other Applications on the Desktop

Wikipedia tells us that the first feature film to use screenlife as a visual technique was the Franco-Belgian romantic comedy Thomas est amoureux (Thomas in Love), released in 2000. The 2010 horror film The Den is considered the first true screenlife feature film. Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov, who coined the term "screenlife," is the leading pioneer and promoter of the technique. He produced his first screenlife feature, Unfriended, in 2014, and also produced Searching (2018) and Missing. Aneesh Chagranty directed Searching and co-wrote it with Sev Ohanian; the two also wrote the script for Missing, which takes place in the same fictional universe.

I really liked the relationship between June and Javier. At the beginning, she's wary of this older guy with a 2.5-star rating, but at $8 USD per hour, he's the only help she can afford. What starts as a simple vendor-customer transaction develops into something much deeper by the end of the ride.

As you can see from the screenshot above, June's MacBook is a busy place, with a bumper crop of Easter eggs in its applications, pop-up notifications, and browser windows. It is said that these include several references to Searching and to Run, another film directed by Aneesh Chagranty which he co-wrote with Sev Ohanian. I will definitely need to see this one again so I can pick up what I missed the first time through.


Missing is a fast-paced thriller with a clever plot, first-rate acting, and a mesmerizing visual style. Four out of four MacBooks.
Baby M's wife thinks he spends too much of his life looking at screens.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this movie. It really highlights how plugged in we are. And even though the movie leans more towards action horror, it highlights how technology is a neutral tool that can be used for good or bad, depending on who is wielding. I really enjoyed Searching so I was more than happy to jump into this movie and it definitely did not disappoint. Great review!


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