Review: “Missing” is a thrill ride built for the modern era

Aneesh Chaganty has returned with another “screen life” thriller. The results are mixed.


Courtesy of Stage 6 Films

In “Missing,” June Allen, played by Storm Reid, must track down her mother after she disappears on a vacation to Columbia.

“Missing,” the first major release of 2023, is a spiritual successor to Aneesh Chaganty’s critical and financial darling, “Searching,” and in many ways, the thriller does a great job of replicating the fundamental successes of its predecessor. Unfortunately, the films contain many of the same pitfalls.

After her mother disappears on a trip to Columbia, high schooler June Allen, played by Storm Reid, must use her laptop to remotely find her missing guardian. Both “Searching” and “Missing” are contemporary thrillers about missing individuals that take place entirely on screens. Every shot is from a facetime call, iPhone camera or security footage. Instead of using technology as set dressing, these movies embrace it. 

While this alone would be impressive, the fact that “Missing” never feels repetitive in its use of screens is the real miracle. The film’s fast-paced editing and the constant stream of new ideas keep what’s on-screen always engaging.

Even with all of the creative solutions, the cinematography is still severely limited by the film’s self-imposed constraints, a problem “Searching” also faced. Most shots are unflattering flat angles trapped within the confines of a messy MacBook desktop. As a result, the visuals rarely add to the suspense or emotion. At certain points, “Missing” can look cheap.

Also like “Searching,” the other technical elements of the movie are similarly generic. The score is comprised of typical action movie electronic synths and drums that do little to increase the tension, and in sentimental moments, the music ends up distracting from the emotion. 

Lead actor Storm Reid does a convincing job of playing the quick-witted June Allen. At key junctures, she sells her emotion well, but sadly the presentation and score keep the audience disconnected from the movie’s emotional core.

The mystery of “Missing” is tight and well executed. Information is shown to the audience at a consistent rate and most conclusions are surprising, but not out of reach from the audience. Occasionally the story stops unfolding to take a sharp right turn that reframes all previous information.

Most of the key reveals are effective and compound tension, but eventually, the twists in the third act become eye-rolling contrivances. When too many twists occur back to back, the audience’s suspense is lost and the movie loses its momentum. Still, “Missing”  is addictingly riveting for most of its runtime and effectively builds tension in the moment.

Even after a five-year gap between movies, “Missing” is not a major drop in quality from “Searching.” But it certainly isn’t an improvement either. If Aneesh Chaganty plans to revisit this formula in future installments, definitive adaptations will need to be made to address the core issues in this subgenre. 

“Missing” is a standard well-written thriller. It’s how the story is told that makes it stand out in some places and painfully generic in others.