June (Storm Reid) searches for her "Missing" mother. Photo courtesy of Screen Gems
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Searching perfected a style that theoretically could apply to many more mysteries. Its sequel, Missing, in theaters Jan. 20, proves there is more to explore.
June (Storm Reid) worries when her mother, Grace (Nia Long), does not return from a vacation in Colombia with her new boyfriend, Kevin (Ken Leung). June begins to dig into her mother and Kevin's computer files and video footage from Colombia to find her.
Like Searching, Missing unfolds entirely on June's computer screen. Scenes with actors are captured as Facetime conversations or the monitor's camera pointed at June's bedroom.
Searching was not the first movie to relegate all of its action to a computer screen, but it was the first one to get it right. Like its predecessor, Missing seamlessly blends all the text and visual communication tools that now are a part of everyday life.
Both Searching and Missing become a modern-day Rear Window, because the protagonist is stuck at home trying to investigate suspicious activity. Day labor apps connect June to proxies who can do some legwork for her, but she also has limited funds, so there is a ticking clock on how much she can rely on others.
Some of the clues June pursues prove to be red herrings. When June pieces together other clues much later in the film, it reminds the audience of details they took for granted just like June did.
Some viewers probably will guess the password June needs to get into Grace's accounts before June figures it out, but other twists blind-side June and the viewer. Missing keeps you guessing until the final twist.
The performances are entirely natural. Speaking on video is normal now, but for actors, it must require a different calibration of their performance. Surely, looking at a screen and acting like you're reading information is a new component of performance every actor must master.
Although Missing is an entirely new mystery with new characters, it does acknowledge that Searching happened in the same world. The abduction in Searching inspired a true crime series June watches, so when she gets ideas from the show, it's really Searching suggesting ideas to its sequel.
Missing incorporates a few new technologies, though it does not include the prolific Zoom. But door cameras and iPhone Live Photos add to the Searching tool set.
If there's ever a question why there's a camera filming a given scene, Missing answers it. Teenagers record so many events for social media, anyway, so it's not a stretch.
Every piece of information June finds twists the tension ever more tightly. She also gets to know her mother better by investigating this relationship.
Like Searching, the reason Missing works is that the mystery is compelling regardless of the format. Using an innovative format only delivers narrative information in a more engaging way.
It also gives hope that if there is a crisis, everybody has left enough digital bread crumbs that an intuitive loved one can follow them to effect a rescue.
It's clear the format wasn't just a one-time fluke. Missing is another taut thriller -- and, hopefully, won't be the last in this style.
Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.