Missing is the latest example of the “device thriller,” a type of movie where the action unfolds entirely on the main character's computer, cell phone, and/or tablet. It's a weird gimmick that can nevertheless be done effectively, as Profile and Searching (this movie's sibling) proved. But there's also something about it that wears thin. I still cringe every time I hear the Skype ringtone because one of these movies – I can't remember which – used it approximately a zillion times in ninety minutes. This one is fairly preposterous, yet fast-paced enough that you don't have a whole lot of time to think about that preposterousness.
June (Storm Reid) is an 18-year-old girl with an overprotective mother, Grace (Nia Long), and a father who passed away. Grace heads out for a trip to Colombia with her boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung). A couple days and one massive party later, June arrives at the airport to pick up her mom, who never gets off the plane. When the foreign police are unhelpful and the FBI doesn't move fast enough, June goes online and hires a Colombian assistant-for-hire named Javi (Joachim de Almeida) to look for clues while she manages her own investigation back home.
Watching apps and websites open can get monotonous, but Missing finds clever ways to keep its story from feeling that way. Rather than playing out in real-time, directors Nicholas D. Johnson and Will Merrick often compress June's online activity into a series of quick beats, so that what would take several minutes for real plays out in several seconds. Their screenplay devises a cool idea in having her figure out Kevin's password so she can tinker around on his Google account and access his programs. That gives the movie two accounts for her to seek information in. Seeing what she finds using her own, then comparing it to what she finds on his adds a layer of tension.
The other thing the movie does right is to throw in multiple genuinely unpredictable twists. More than once, the game is changed by a revelation June either uncovers or has present itself to her. I couldn't predict where the story was going to go next. Once all the pieces have been put together, a subject emerges that gives Missing a hint of depth. Yes, it uses an extreme situation to address that subject. Having it nevertheless provides an emotional punch beyond the idea of a panicked girl looking for her mother.
Not much here is particularly credible. The idea of a teenager doing a better job of solving a potential kidnapping than the professional authorities is, of course, fantasy. More than once, pure luck helps June at the precise moment she needs it. For the big finale, the movie cheats slightly, showing us what happens from the perspective of security cameras. June is, at this point, no longer in control, and there are fudges in terms of important events occurring directly in front of those cameras. It's all a little too convenient.
Storm Reid is a likeable young actress who makes June a character we want to follow, even in those sillier moments. Her performance is very good, despite being limited in what she can do by the computer screen premise. (We mostly see her in a window, looking at her device.) Missing's relentless drive is another benefit in overlooking any flaws it may have. From the second the studio logo is done, the film hits the ground running, never slowing down until the end credits start. There's probably an expiration date on device movies. Sooner or later, no new ideas will exist to utilize. We're not there yet, though. This suspenseful thriller won't blow you away, but it will keep you sufficiently hooked for two hours.
out of four
Missing is rated PG-13 for some strong violence, language, teen drinking, and thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.