‘Missing’ Delivers Yet Another Screenlife Winner

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Not Pictured: The People Who Are Missing (CREDIT: Screen Gems)

Starring: Storm Reid, Nia Long, Ken Leung, Joaquim de Almeida, Amy Landecker, Daniel Henney, Tim Griffin, Megan Suri

Directors: Nick Johnson and Will Merrick

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Over-the-Top Ragers and Implied Disturbing Violence

Release Date: January 20, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: 18-year-old June Allen (Storm Reid) sure is ready to make her way to college so that she doesn’t have to keep constantly rolling her eyes at her mom Grace (Nia Long). She’ll get to preview that independence for about a week as Mom goes on vacation to Colombia with her new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung, aka Miles from Lost). She proceeds to throw a nonstop, knockout rager but ultimately manages to schlep it over to LAX just in time to pick up Grace and Kevin upon their return back to the States. But then they’re nowhere to be found!

So to track them down, June enlists the help of an FBI agent (Daniel Henney), her mom’s lawyer (Amy Landecker), and a random guy on the ground in Colombia (Joaquim de Almeida). Over the course of the investigation, some rather surprising tidbits about Grace and Kevin’s pasts begin to emerge, and we see this all unfold on laptops, cell phones, and other modern Internet-connected screen devices.

What Made an Impression?: Is screenlife the best genre ever?!!! It’s a fairly young cinematic style, but it’s been producing hit after hit after hit. Unfriended was excellent! Unfriended: Dark Web took the scares to another level! Searching delivered the thrills in spades! And now we’ve got Missing serving as a standalone sequel to Searching, with a fresh story that maintains the same investigative approach and also the same gerund titling strategy. Neither Missing nor Searching has a plot that absolutely demands confining its action to screens, but that approach nevertheless keeps everything focused. And I think that’s a huge reason (perhaps even the hugest reason) why this subgenre has delivered so consistently. There are some cheats here and there in which the action spreads beyond the computer, but for the most part, the creative restraints fuel creative triumphs.

The undeniable fun of Missing is derived from its series of status quo-altering revelations, each one more gobsmacking than the rest. Pretty much everyone connected to the disappearance has their devastating secrets, and each one is calibrated for maximum audience satisfaction. I wonder if everything would still hang together on a repeat viewing, but even if the strings do start to show, that doesn’t change how effective the initial delivery is. This is a fine-tuned, well-oiled puzzle. You might be able to see greasy residue on some of the pieces, but that’s only evidence of all the essential attention to detail.

Missing is Recommended If You Like: Searching, Cable true crime docs, Online how-to guides

Grade: 4 out of 5 Windows

 

Who Better to Make Us Feel ‘Old’ Than M. Night Shyamalan?

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Old (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre, Kathleen Chalfant, Emun Elliott, Embeth Davidtz

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense, Strange Violence and a Bare Buttcrack Running Into the Ocean

Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Theaters)

After delivering one of the most iconic twist endings of all time in The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan became straitjacketed by his reputation for the last-second reveal. But now that he’s a little bit older (wink, wink) and wiser, he’s quietly and consistently embraced that reputation. And why not? He truly is one of the all-time masters of the technique, and Old might just be his greatest trick since The Sixth Sense. But Old doesn’t rely on the twist for the entire movie to be effective (which was also the case with his breakthrough film). If the conclusion hadn’t told us what was really happening on this beach that ages people at a rate of about 2 years per hour, I would’ve been disappointed. But I also probably would’ve quickly gotten over that by appreciating everything else there is to offer in this meditation on the passage of time.

Each of the vacationers who find themselves on Old‘s private beach are in situations that are ripe for prompting considerations of mortality. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) has a tumor in her stomach, which is contributing to the troubles with her husband Guy (Gael García Bernal). Charles (Rufus Sewell) is beset by mental illness while attempting to keep both his much younger wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) happy. Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) are trying to enjoy themselves without worrying too much about Patricia’s frequent seizures. Big deal rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is decompressing from the pressures of fame while also dealing with a blood clotting condition. And on top of all that, we’ve got Prisca and Guy’s two kids and Charles and Chrystal’s daughter running around, which is the perfect formula to make any parent get a little verklempt about how the days are just whizzing by.

So just how would people really react if their lifespans suddenly became overwhelmingly compressed? As Old sees it, their first instinct would be to escape, which is probably why Shyamalan decided to make it nearly impossible for them to do so. As they attempt to make peace – or not – with their doom, their reactions are filled with violence and terror. And of course that’s the case; this is a panicky and desperate crisis, a fabulous escape room of mammoth proportions. But there are also moments of  reflection and tenderness, as the families attempt to make the best of the time they have left with each other.

From the first frame to the last, Old is richly satisfying as both metaphor and thought experiment. The questions it raises are plenty of fun to puzzle out as the characters do so on screen. If our biological ages suddenly become so much older, would we become correspondingly more emotionally and mentally mature? Just what is it that makes us mature when time passes at its normal rate anyway? Life experiences, for sure. And well, there’s a lot of life experience packed into each grain of sand on this beach. And the same is also true of the richest cinema in the world. You’ll probably feel a little older after watching Old, and I bet you’ll be thankful about that.

Old is Recommended If You Like: Feeling both scared and enriched by the passage of time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Hours