Searching was one of the best films I had ever seen in 2018. The high-concept premise told on a computer/laptop/mobile device screen may have been nothing new. But first-time feature director Aneesh Chaganty did a great job turning the otherwise gimmickry premise into a gripping thriller filled with twists and excellent performances, notably John Cho in his dramatic lead role.
No doubt a movie like Searching works best as a one-off and any attempt to do a sequel, prequel or thematically similar follow-up might result in a mere cash grab. That is if the movie falls into the wrong hands. At first glance, Missing does make me feel like they are cashing in on the success of the 2018 original and giving it a few tweaks here and there. Simply swap Searching‘s Asian-Americans cast (John Cho, Michelle La) with Black actors (Storm Reid, Nia Long). And instead of a father searching for his missing daughter, Missing focuses on the daughter finding her mum.
But after I finally get to watch the movie, Missing proved me wrong that this standalone sequel turns out to be a better-than-expected mystery thriller after all. Except this movie somehow lacks the emotional impact and poignancy of its predecessor. Even with all the efforts trying to get me invested in the bittersweet father-daughter moment shot on a home-video style between James (Tim Griffin) and his young daughter, June (Ava Zaria Lee), which can be seen during the melodramatic opening act.
Frankly, it takes a while for me to warm up to the story as we learn that after the death of her father, June (Storm Reid), who is now an 18-year-old adult hardly gets along with her mother, Grace (Nia Long). We see June constantly spending time on her laptop — MacBook, to be exact — multitasking and chatting with her friend, Veena (Megan Suri). She also dislikes the fact her mother is currently seeing a new boyfriend named Kevin (Ken Leung).
When her mum and her boyfriend are off on a vacation to Colombia, she finally gets to enjoy her temporary freedom having fun and parties to her heart’s content. Then, something happens: The day her mum asks her to pick her up at the airport, she realises neither her mum nor her boyfriend show up even after waiting for like an eternity. She starts to worry that her mum might be missing and tries whatever she can to locate her from contacting the hotel they live in Colombia to enlisting the help of a Colombian local named Javi (Joaquim de Almeida). As days go by, the increasingly frantic search for her missing mum soon turns into national news.
Aneesh Chaganty is only served as one of the producers this time around with Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, who previously edited the 2018 original, handling the directing as well as writing the screenplay. They retain the same concept here and despite this being their first time directing a movie, Johnson and Merrick manage to pull off a largely impressive feat sustaining the momentum with a brisk pace. They made good use of social media and other apps that are relatable to generate enough suspense and thrills as we witness June uses her tech-savvy skills to improvise her search for her missing mum on her MacBook and at times, a smartwatch.
I also enjoyed how they incorporate several twists and turns as well as the crafty storytelling approach of misdirection that I didn’t see it coming. I admit it feels far-fetched once the movie reveals the truth behind June’s missing mother but the consistently fun and interactive way of storytelling helps overcome the flaw.
As for the cast, Johnson and Merrick bring out the best in them including Storm Reid’s engaging lead performance as June while it’s nice to see Joaquim de Almeida, who often plays antagonist roles in movies like Clear and Present Danger (1994), Desperado (1995) and Fast Five a.k.a. Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist (2011), shows up as a helpful runner, Javi.