It’s rare that a mystery movie feels new. From the world’s greatest detectives to based-on-a-beach-read thrillers, movies have mined the mystery genre for nearly all it’s worth over the years. Which is why it’s so nice when something like Missing comes along and shakes up the formula a little bit.
Missing is the 2023 follow-up to 2018’s Searching and follows June Allen (Storm Reid), a teenager who never really knew her father and loves (but doesn’t always get along with) her doing-her-best single mom — and she gets along even worse with her mom’s latest boyfriend. Despite that difficulty, when her mom mysteriously disappears in the middle of a trip to Mexico, June jumps into action, using everything at her disposal as an amateur online detective to find her.
This premise may sound simple, but that’s by design. Missing’s real hook is that it’s told entirely through the on-screen displays of the devices that are in front of us every day. Scenes play out in Photo Booth windows, FaceTime calls, security footage played off a computer screen, video chats, or internet browsers. Everything in Missing comes straight off a screen, including all the detective work that June does. This isn’t the first movie to present its plot almost entirely through a screen, but it does take a more varied approach and changes locations more often than movies like Unfriended or its superior sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web.
This is where the movie’s cleverness really shines through. Missing is a movie that’s confident on the internet. It understands there are livestreams of most bustling public places at any given time, or that a Tasker or other gig app worker is a good way of being somewhere without having to physically go there. We even get clever phishing scams designed to entrap boomers, and some clever account manipulation that feels grounded enough to work. It’s a refreshing change from the versions of the internet in other thrillers and never falls prey to their comical depictions of “hacking” or pretending their characters are tech geniuses.
The framing of shots that play out via webcam or video feed is creative and organic, and gives the movie a genuine air of suspense that makes us feel just as helpless as June does with her remote investigating. It’s an impressive feat to make sure all this camera work is never annoying and doesn’t call attention to itself, but debut directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick pull it off in increasingly surprising ways up to Missing’s very last moments. They find dozens of ways to showcase the action without repeating anything too many times, and turn the limitations of webcam or iPhone viewing angles into opportunities for tension.
But Missing is more than just the sum of its gimmicks. It is, first and foremost, just a supremely entertaining movie. It gives viewers plenty of clues to solve its mystery themselves, but plays things out just as entertainingly if you’re an amateur Hercule Poirot or simply content to sit on the sidelines and let the characters do the solving. Even beyond its actual mystery, Missing is a rare whip-smart thriller that never lets its stakes get out of hand and keeps things fun, even when the situations on screen are at their most dire.
Missing is streaming on Netflix