The standalone sequel to Searching is here, and like its predecessor, Missing weighs in on some hefty topics using social media and technology. Starring Nia Long and Storm Reid as mother-daughter duo Grace and June Allen, Missing follows the twists and turns of Grace’s mysterious disappearance as June pieces it all together at home using her laptop and some social media hacking. But while the film will lure you in as a suspenseful thriller with astounding editing and novel visual storytelling, its real appeal stands on the thematic undertones grounding its whirlwind plot.
At a first glance, Missing may seem to be a crime story about the internet’s many rabbit holes that undermine our privacy. But the film is actually more concerned with the public’s obsession with finding the perfect victim and villain for a news story. It’s a fixation that’s created and nourished by a seemingly endless wave of true-crime content that sensationalizes real-life tragedies, frequently at the expense of people of color. Missing‘s real story is about how quick people (and the internet) are to villainize and neglect people of color if it means they get another TikTok hit or Netflix true-crime special.
What happens in Missing?
Credit: Sony Pictures
“A lot of this film is playing with your biases, and the ways you might misinterpret something.”
When Grace Allen fails to return from her vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung), time is of the essence. As the feds drag their heels on investigating her disappearance, June takes things into her own social media-savvy hands to find out what actually happened to her mom. While Missing strings you along for many plot twists, its big reveal is that Grace never actually left for Colombia; she was kidnapped on her way to the airport by June’s father, James (Tim Griffin).
James was dangerously abusive to Grace when June was young. So, Grace fled with June to California years before, changing their names and leaving young June to believe her father was dead. As it turned out, James met Kevin while they were both in prison. It was Kevin who helped him orchestrate this entire heist by hiring actors to play out their Colombia vacation gone wrong. While all eyes and fingers were pointing to Kevin in Colombia, Grace was trapped in a shack in James’s ranch the entire time. After a series of trials and tribulations, June manages to save the day and get her mom back home.
What does Missing‘s ending actually mean?
Credit: Sony Pictures
Mashable hopped on a quick Zoom with the co-directors of Missing, Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, to discuss the subtext of their movie.
“There was one [high profile] case in particular where it felt like people on TikTok were profiting off of the commentary and theories of this case, that we didn’t really love,” shared Johnson. “And so we injected that into the movie itself because we saw that happening [in real life].”
When Grace’s disappearance makes it to the news, everything about her case quickly becomes internet clickbait, with TikTokkers and Gen Z true-crime aficionados digging into Grace’s past and finding out that she has something to hide. The viewer knows Grace changed her name to escape her abuser, but the internet doesn’t and is adamant about making her a villain.
The wave of true-crime TikToks pouring in and pointing to Grace as the true puppet master behind everything illuminates how quick society is to point fingers at single Black women (or men) instead of looking at the bigger picture. “We definitely thought about the missing white girl syndrome while making this” added Merrick. “A lot of this film is playing with your biases and the ways you might misinterpret something, even you as the audience and not the true-crime people we’re criticizing.”
In Missing, true-crime content creators don’t operate with empathy, never stopping to wonder what might have urged Grace to change her name in the first place. Instead, they hop on a dangerous media bandwagon for the rush of it all, leaping to scandalizing conclusions. It’s a phenomenon Cat Cardenas at Slate Magazine(Opens in a new window) refers to as “true-crime brain,” and we can see it every day, onscreen and off.
While Missing is a wild roller coaster with a series of events that may seem out of the ordinary, a lot of the film is grounded in real-life inspirations that guide its characters’ actions. The real joy of the film is watching your TikTok FYP page being fed to you on the big screen — a dish out on all things true crime and what it can create.
Missing is out in theaters.