'Missing' is the latest thriller to unfold on phones and laptops : Pop Culture Happy Hour The new movie Missing is about our connected world. The social media, the surveillance cameras, the news footage, the video chats — the many, many things we can see from our screens. In this sequel to the 2018 thriller Searching, Storm Reid plays a young woman whose mother leaves on a trip with her boyfriend and seems to just vanish. Desperate to solve the mystery, Reid uses technology to figure out what's going on and save her mother's life.

'Missing' is the latest thriller to unfold on phones and laptops

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA HOLMES, HOST:

The new thriller "Missing" is about our connected world - the social media, the surveillance cameras, the news footage, the video chats, the many, many things we can see from our screens.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

Storm Reid plays a young woman whose mother leaves on a trip with her boyfriend and seems to just vanish. Desperate to solve the mystery, Reid uses everything she knows to figure out what's going on and save her mother's life. I'm Stephen Thompson.

HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about the movie "Missing" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining us today is "Switched On Pop" producer Reanna Cruz. Welcome back, Reanna.

REANNA CRUZ: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.

HOLMES: Absolutely. So some of you may have seen the 2018 film "Searching," which starred John Cho as a father looking for his missing daughter. "Searching" was also made up of only what you could see on his various screens as he tried to navigate his daughter's much more online world. "Missing" is loosely set in the same cinematic universe, I guess you could say, and shares some of the same creative team behind the scenes. It was written and directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson. They also worked on the editing and production of "Searching."

In "Missing," Storm Reid plays June, who has a complicated relationship with her single mother, Grace, played by Nia Long. Grace has a newish boyfriend, Kevin, played by Ken Leung. And she goes off on a vacation with him, at which point she stops communicating with June and seems to just kind of vanish. June does what any enterprising young person would do. She hops on social media. She takes advantage of the gig economy. She capitalizes on people's bad password habits, all to try to figure out where her mother is. "Missing" is in theaters now.

I'm going to go first to you, Stephen. You and I watched this movie sitting next to each other. What did you think?

THOMPSON: I found it overall really effective. One thing that this movie does, I think, very well is just remain in constant motion. It is a twisty mystery. A lot of the quirks of storytelling using technology - you know, that's a gimmick we're kind of seeing play out more and more in movies. It's not, I think, as novel as it was in 2018. But I think this film handles it pretty effectively. There are certainly many, many scenes that rely on a pretty high degree of luck in order to get where the movie's trying to take us. But on balance, I just really pretty much sat there riveted through the whole thing, which is all you can ask for, really.

HOLMES: So it worked on you?

THOMPSON: It worked on me.

HOLMES: OK, Reanna, my understanding is that your reaction is somewhat more mixed. I cannot wait to hear about it. Tell me what you thought.

CRUZ: You know, I thought it was fine. I kept hearing in the lead-up to the film - like you said, Stephen - that there'd be, like, tricks and turns, and I did get a bunch of those. And in the thriller department, I think it does a really great job at, like, keeping you on your toes, keeping you engrossed. Where it lacks for me, I think, is in the format, which I think ultimately proves limiting. And I love a gimmick horror movie, right? Like, my favorite subgenre is, like, people trapped in space play game, which is admittedly, like, the most limiting horror movie subgenre of them all.

But I have seen "Searching." I've seen "Unfriended." I've seen a bunch of internet screen horror movies. And despite there being cool presentation choices at points in time - like, there's a few "Inland Empire"-esque, like, grainy, super digitally altered close-ups of things that really freaked me out - I still was lost in the feasibility of it all being a social media thriller. Like, she has FaceTime open at all times. I don't know if teenagers do that. But format aside, I do think that, like, in January, we need a popcorn thriller. This is a popcorn thriller.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

CRUZ: And, you know, can't ask for really much else.

HOLMES: Yeah. It's interesting to me 'cause I really liked "Searching." I think "Searching" is probably a better movie than this, although less twisty than this. Where I think I came down was this is definitely trying to be snazzier than "Searching." There's a little more mustard put on a lot of things. There's a little more quickie, quickie, cutty (ph), edit-y (ph), like, kind of stuff. I think "Searching" was a little more willing to be a quieter film for a lot of it. It's also anchored by John Cho, who - and this is nothing against Storm Reid, but I think the way they figured out the John Cho character was maybe a little bit more compelling to me, mostly because the thing about "Searching" is that he is the dad, and his daughter is very active on the internet, but he isn't as much. So what you get in "Searching" is more him kind of trying to find his way through kind of her world of messages and Facebook. And the movie came out in 2018, so it's planting its flag in technology even before that. So you have more Facebook and more other kinds of technology, but it's more stripped down, I think.

And this one is a little bit more - you know, this kid, June, is very, very, very savvy about lots and lots and lots of different things. She knows immediately what to do about a lot more stuff than the John Cho character in "Searching." And I think for that reason, it's so speedy and it's so kind of jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, jump, that you don't get the same kind of frustration building as I think you got in "Searching." And it's not necessarily that you - that it's important to compare these movies tirelessly, but I think comparing it to "Searching" gets at one of the just kind of choices that you have to make with a film like this. Are you going to have it be super fast or are you going to have it be more contemplative?

I did like it. I think it is good. I definitely did not see all of the twists coming, which is exactly what you want. I like all the actors who are involved. I like Nia Long. I like Storm Reid. I think it's a good story, but I do kind of have that same feeling that - I come down sort of where Reanna does that, like, I really enjoyed this as a January thriller. You know, we just covered "Plane." I think, in a way...

CRUZ: Incredible.

HOLMES: Like, I think it's probably better than "Plane" to me. But, like...

THOMPSON: Better than "Plane," not as good as "M3GAN."

CRUZ: Exactly.

HOLMES: Well, that's the thing is, like, there's all these films that come out that are sort of right after this push of awards - awards-y (ph) stuff. You know, they are what you're looking for at a particular time. I did enjoy this. I do want to ask, Reanna, for a little more follow-up about what you said about getting stuck in the plausibility or the kind of how she really is using all of these tools, because that's one of the things I think is tricky. I mean, you make a movie like this and, six months later, what people would really be doing is totally different.

CRUZ: Right. I think it's interesting that you bring up "Searching" because I thought "Searching" did this really well for the exact reasons that you said. It's the dad trying to understand and trying to explore these social media platforms. And I feel like in "Missing," for somebody that is perhaps more technically savvy than myself, it's very interesting to see how the movie sort of games them for optimal, like, usage because, like, I don't know, when I'm, you know, logging into my Gmail, it doesn't just, like, go right into the Gmail once I put in the email, you know what I mean? Like, I have to do, like, a two-factor authentication. It has to send me the code. I have to access the code and things like that that I think the movie dumbs down in a way for us to be able to read it better.

And in other regards, for being, like, a teenager on the internet, other movies do it better. And I think that's sort of where "Missing" falters for me, is that I'm thinking of other examples that do it more effectively. I love "Unfriended" - like, I have to say, like, guilty-pleasure-type movie, but it does it well because it's also teenagers and they're also trying to explore something, but it's mainly told on platforms that, like, we intimately know, we know the intricacies of and it's done sort of realistically where, you know, the first one is told on Skype, and it's like, OK, you know, like, we know how to use Skype. There's no, like, tricks and turns. We're not trying to, like, discover a new platform or - you know, and this movie kind of takes some liberties in a way that me, being a young person that's constantly on the internet - it just - it rubs me the wrong way a little bit.

HOLMES: Yeah. I want to ask you a question, Stephen, because you have raised teenagers. Part of me thinks that the most effective vision of this film is as a horror movie for parents of teenagers, simply because she is so adept at sort of being able to manipulate the internet so quickly and easily. There are some jokes at the expense of parents and parent-adjacent people who use the same password for everything or don't protect their accounts in any way. And I wondered whether, like, really, maybe the most effective way to think of this is that it's a terrifying movie for parents of teenagers.

THOMPSON: I mean, it is, and it isn't. I mean, at the same time, I definitely occasionally found myself thinking, like, why hasn't her mom ever reverse-engineered any of these tactics to figure out that she's throwing parties at their house? Like, the same things that allow her to move so cleanly through her mom's world - I mean, I - you know, you do certainly come away from it thinking about the role of the surveillance state and how much this technology has invaded our lives. But I do also think that having the protagonist be tech savvy moves you more quickly through, as you described, Linda, the frustration inherent in searching and really just kind of gets you to the mystery. And so it's able to kind of pile on twist after twist after twist and, oh, you didn't see that coming, in ways that maybe you couldn't do in a movie where somebody is having to learn how the technology works.

HOLMES: Yeah, I get that. But I do agree with Reanna that there are some liberties taken with, for example, the capabilities of smartwatches. I'm not going to say no smartwatches...

CRUZ: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Can do what smartwatches in this movie...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Do...

CRUZ: Right.

HOLMES: ...But average smartwatches do not necessarily do everything that they do in this film. The parts of the film that I enjoyed the most were things where you really feel like, yes, this is something that I recognize as, you know, an interesting manipulation of a phenomenon that many of us have experienced with our tech. Sometimes it works well. I think the use of, like, the Ring camera - to me, like, yes, you would do that. That is indeed the Ring camera sound. And every time I heard it, I was like - you know, part of me just alerts because I used to have a Ring camera. Those kinds of things I really enjoyed. Other kinds of things, I was like, as I think you guys have already noted, you do have to get pretty lucky to get some of this stuff to work in the way that it does. Although I did like the fact...

CRUZ: (Laughter) Yeah.

HOLMES: ...That she seizes upon the gig economy and Taskrabbit to sort of connect with this guy I really liked...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

HOLMES: ...In Colombia who becomes kind of her buddy sort of working the case there. I don't know, I liked Javi.

THOMPSON: I liked Javi, too. And I - God, I got to throw one more bit of praise in this film's direction that it didn't try to make up new brands.

HOLMES: Oh, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: You know, like, you - they didn't have to come - they didn't...

HOLMES: Yeah, yeah.

THOMPSON: ...Try to come up with fake pieces of technology to stand in for real ones.

HOLMES: Listen, the "Law & Order" universe is the champion of awkward...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: ...Fake tech brands. Shout out to FaceUnion.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I mean, that's really important. It doesn't take you out of the film. You're watching FaceTime. You're watching Ring cameras. You're watching Google. You're watching technology that actually exists in the world...

HOLMES: Yeah.

THOMPSON: ...Instead of trying to, like, get around uses of these names.

HOLMES: Reanna, what did you think of the actual mystery?

CRUZ: I thought the mystery was good. I was invested throughout, which I think, bare minimum, that's what you could ask for. You know, I wasn't bored. I wasn't looking at my phone. That is, you know, the defying aspect of film in 2023, especially a film about social media. It doesn't make me want to go and look at social media. So I...

HOLMES: There you go.

CRUZ: ...Think it did its job, truly. Like, it did what it was supposed to do.

HOLMES: Yeah. I think that is perfectly stated. Well, on a screen of your choosing, we want to know what you think about "Missing." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh. Up next, we're going to talk about what is making us happy this week.

Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, what is making us happy this week? Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?

THOMPSON: What is making me happy this week is being hopelessly behind on a song that I should have been championing three months ago, given that that's when it topped the Billboard charts. I was very slow to pick up on it, in part because it is by an artist who has always bored me, Sam Smith.

HOLMES: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: Sam Smith came up with a series of very boring songs, had a huge hit with a song called "Stay With Me" that bored me senseless, won an Oscar for a "James Bond" film that bored me senseless. Yeah. So imagine my surprise when I'm listening to the radio and I hear an absolute banger called "Unholy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNHOLY")

KIM PETRAS: (Singing) Jump under the covers.

SAM SMITH: (Singing) Mommy don't know Daddy's getting hot at the body shop, doing something unholy. He's sat back while she's dropping it, she be popping it. Yeah, she put it down slowly.

THOMPSON: Sam Smith, like many people, has evolved in interesting ways as a pop star. And, yeah, I went and watched the video. This song is a collaboration between Sam Smith and the German pop singer Kim Petras. It ended up setting several huge milestones when it topped the Billboard charts. Sam Smith is openly non-binary. Kim Petras is openly trans. They were the first openly non-binary and openly trans solo artists to hit no. 1 on the Billboard charts.

And what I like about this song is that it just kind of rules. It's weird and surprising. The video is just a gigantic, queer fantasia. And it's just been so fun to watch a singer that I had personally filed away as not interesting to me, as somebody who was just, like, a boring, standstill, adult contemporary pop singer and see that artist kind of evolve into something that just could not be further from that. That is really nice to see, while still having that big, booming, elastic voice that allowed them to become a big pop star in the first place. So what is making me happy this week is "Unholy," the chart-topping banger by Sam Smith and Kim Petras.

HOLMES: All right. Very good, Stephen Thompson. Way to grow as a person.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: Very much appreciate and admire that. Reanna Cruz, what is making you happy this week?

CRUZ: I think happy is taking some liberties here. But I went to see "Skinamarink" in theaters. And if you've been on - I don't know - film Twitter and film circles, you probably heard about this movie, which is a, I'm going to say, experimental horror movie. It's the director Kyle Edward Ball's first feature directorial movie. He used to have a YouTube channel where he would take submissions of nightmares and then film, like, recreations of them. And this movie, "Skinamarink," is essentially a giant version of one of those where - I think there's a quote from him where he said that there's this dream - or, rather, nightmare that he had as a child that he thought a lot of other people had as well, which was like, you are a kid. You're in a house. Your parents are gone. And there's something evil that's there.

Essentially, "Skinamarink" doesn't really have a plot, but it's essentially that. You're seeing the movie through the eyes of a child in this scary, dark house. Doors and windows go missing. There's things that appear. You hear voices. And it's a very visceral experience. Again, like, using happy is, like, a liberty because it really terrified me and made me afraid of the dark for, I think, the first time in maybe over a decade. So that was kind of alarming. But what does make me happy about it is that it truly is experimental. It's weird. It's different.

I went to see it at an AMC, which I think is, like, a crazy thing to me. And having a movie like that in theaters kind of surviving solely by word of mouth, I think, is incredible. It's also very polarizing in reactions to people who watch it, where, like, I loved it. My roommates who I saw it with thought it was the most boring movie of all time. But if you truly buy into it and it sounds like something that's terrifying, and you like the sort of experimental horror energy that comes with it, definitely go see "Skinamarink" and, you know, support movies like that in theaters.

HOLMES: All right. Very good, "Skinamarink." Thank you, Reanna Cruz. So I'm going to start with a question. Stephen Thompson, have you discovered your power zones?

THOMPSON: Have I discovered my power zones? I feel like I couldn't be farther away from that destination.

HOLMES: Yeah. So this January, I have been doing a challenge to take a Peloton class every day. You can, by the way, look back in our archives and find our Peloton show. But I've been on a challenge to take a class every day. And one of the things that I have been doing is taking this program called Discover Your Power Zones. I am going to get around to why this is a good choice for my happy, by the way.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: And it's this very particular program that is taught by these very particular instructors - right? - who are not necessarily the instructors I normally take. I normally take Sam, the former monk. I normally take Christine, the hugger who just, like - and Christine does teach power zone classes. But anyway, it's a little bit different. It's more gym bro kind of dudes teaching these Discover Your Power Zone classes. And I realized that it is a great opportunity to hear music I don't like. And I want to...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: I want to clarify what I mean. In our world of self-curated everything, how many opportunities do I personally have to hear music that I don't like? And I don't mean by that music that isn't good because I'm about to name...

THOMPSON: Right.

HOLMES: ...Some bands that people like.

CRUZ: (Laughter).

HOLMES: And I am not saying they are not good. I'm saying they're not my thing.

CRUZ: Oh, I'm ready.

HOLMES: I don't listen to a lot of Rage Against the Machine, not because they're bad, but it's not my thing. One of the guys who teaches these classes loves to pedal the bike to Rage Against the Machine.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

HOLMES: Do I listen to a lot of Helmet? No.

CRUZ: (Laughter).

THOMPSON: Good band. You are naming some good bands.

CRUZ: Yeah.

HOLMES: I'm not saying they're not the bands. What I am - so maybe the right phrase is not bands I don't like. It's bands I don't listen to, right?

THOMPSON: Right.

HOLMES: So it is an opportunity to explore what it feels like to suddenly be exposed to a bunch of not your music on not your playlists in a way that you don't really - like, when you're on a program, they tell you, take this class next. So you're not sitting there being like, I'm going to take this Broadway class. I'm going to take this Prince class. I'm going to take this '80s class. You're just going to take the next class in the thing. And if that's Rage Against the Machine and Helmet, then that is what you are going to listen to because that is what the next class is. There is something to be said for listening to music where you're like, I don't know about this, man. I don't know about this. It's not my thing. But I am glad for those sort of serendipitous moments, that this happens to be the one that I'm experiencing right now.

THOMPSON: So what you're saying, Linda, is that if I had gotten on my dust-gathering Peloton three months ago, I might have heard that Sam Smith song when everyone was talking about it?

HOLMES: Very possible. Probably not from these guys.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Probably not from these guys.

HOLMES: But at some point, yes, it's very possible. So serendipitous Peloton music. And that is what is making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. And that brings us to the end of our show. Stephen Thompson, Reanna Cruz, thanks to both of you for being here.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

CRUZ: Thank you for having me.

HOLMES: This episode is produced by Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. Brendan Crump is our podcast coordinator. And Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Linda Holmes. And we'll see you all next week, when we will be talking about, ooh, "Velma."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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