Missing succeeds as a sequel to 2018’s Searching, providing another twisty thriller whose action is all shown through device screens. But it’s most effective as cybersecurity training; after watching the ease with which an average 18-year-old can gain access to others’ email and accounts, the audience will rush to enable two-factor authentication. Though Missing has more serious subjects on its mind than just advocating for unique passwords and better digital hygiene, this is a highly engaging, slightly silly movie mystery made more for Gen Z than its predecessor was.
While Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching focused on John Cho’s sad dad and his attempts to find his absent daughter, this follow-up flips the script and centers on a sad kid and her search for her missing mom. It begins like the original film, introducing a happy family about to be rocked by tragedy in a prologue set more than a decade before the bulk of the action. In Missing, teenage June (Storm Reid) and her mother Grace (Nia Long) are on their own after moving from Texas to California following the death of June’s dad when she was younger. June still struggles with grief, and Father’s Day reopens the wound every year. So when her mother books a trip in June with her new boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung), June feels lost. However, when Grace and Kevin don’t return as planned from Colombia, June begins to worry and starts investigating her mother’s disappearance through the digital trail she left behind.
Missing isn’t a direct sequel to Searching, since it focuses on an entirely new family (though there are cheeky references and cameos from actors who appeared in smaller roles in the first film). Instead, it continues the approach of only using screens to tell its story. It moves quicker than Searching, largely thanks to the 18-year-old digital native driving both the action and the trackpad, adding gentle ribbing of older generations for their struggles with technology. June is far faster at doing what she needs to solve the mystery than Cho’s David was, easily gaining access to others’ accounts and figuring out solutions to the challenge of being thousands of miles away from where her mother was last seen. However, June retains her predecessor’s odd habit of constantly leaving the Facetime window open and camera on; it feels unnatural, but it gives us more time looking at Reid’s expressive face, rather than just her activity in apps and her browser window.
While Missing introduces some new issues to the audience, many of the themes are the same that were covered in Searching, making this go-round feel less novel in both its execution and its ideas. Both movies center on single-parent families whose daughter bristles against parental authority with college on the horizon. These movies also make their characters — and the audience — question how well we really know those we are closest to in a way that’s just as unsettling as its thriller elements.
Speaking of which, Missing has more red herrings than a concessions-sized box of Swedish Fish. It’s tough to guess where it’s going, but each new twist seems thrown in more for the sake of chaos, rather than feeling earned. It leads to a larger reveal that adds some gravitas similar to Searching and its third-act twist, but it loses some of that solemnity to the general WTF reaction to the plot.
Missing is fun and briskly paced, but it lacks the verve of both the original and other, better films in the genre such as Unfriended and Host. And after three years of spending more of our lives in front of screens than ever before, it provides less escapism than the original did in 2018. Whilewell-made and effective, what once felt fresh is already starting to give screen fatigue.