Studio: Anchor Bay
Director: Michael Goi
Writer: Michael Goi
Producer: Mark Gragnani
Stars: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite, Jael Elizabeth Steinmeyer, Rudy Galvan, Carolina Sabate, Kara Wang, Brittany Hingle
Two teenage girls are abducted by a dangerous online predator.
Like “America’s Most Wanted” host John Walsh, Marc Klaas has the unfortunate distinction of acquiring involuntary celebrity due to a tragedy involving his child. Also similar to Walsh, Klaas made the best of that national spotlight by turning his pain into a positive and becoming an advocate for the prevention of crimes against children.
That puts him in an unfortunate, although unique, position to offer perspective on the subject matter of “Megan Is Missing.” Klaas is spot on when he succinctly categorizes writer/director Michael Goi’s “found footage” movie as “a difficult, but important, film to watch” as well as “... a deadly, toxic cocktail that deserves attention and discussion.” His comments are not an endorsement of the production as horror entertainment, but are testimony to its raw impact in depicting all too real terror.
To be a horrific story, “Megan Is Missing” does not have to be based on true events, even though it is inspired by general crimes of Internet predators. It may not be the story of any two teenage girls specifically, which is something that only makes it more frightening. This could be anyone.
Megan and Amy are intentionally painted as two stereotypical fourteen-year-olds. Megan is the slightly promiscuous popular girl with a tumultuous home life and trendy interests. Her best friend Amy is still busily holding on to childhood for as long as possible, with a bed so full of stuffed animals that it barely has room for her.
The brilliance of casting these two girls with differing personalities is the portrayal of neither as being immune to exploitable vulnerabilities. Megan may be more interested in sex, drugs, and parties, but that does not necessarily increase her risk of falling prey to a sadistic kidnapper. Amy has her ducks in a row when it comes to family, academics, and piety, yet she is just as likely to become a viable target. Conflict with parents, low self-esteem, and various peer pressures are all common factors influencing these girls’ mindsets.
Act one has a buildup with the surface appearance of salaciousness, depicting girls too young to drive performing oral sex and recalling first sexual experiences. “Megan Is Missing” is not trying to titillate with its frank portrayals of teenagers doing drugs and teasing each other to lose their virginities. What “Megan Is Missing” actually does with these moments is prime sensibilities for a visual assault when that youth is forcefully stripped away in the final third of the movie. An honest look inside a junior high environment is vital for putting the power in the punch behind the shocks.
Actors this young and this inexperienced are rarely this good or this convincing. Amber Perkins looks the part of intelligent and reliable friend Amy. The way the light extinguishes in her eyes when she suddenly numbs on camera to the terrifying reality of her irreversible situation is heartbreaking. Michael Goi pulls similar subtleties out of Rachel Quinn’s Megan. Watching the way her glib mood changes to dour with downcast eyes while discussing her home life feels genuine. It is smart characterization of one girl willingly putting herself in a dangerous situation and one girl who is unwillingly pulled in.
Their abductor, Josh, allows one girl to come to him while he goes after the other. Megan and Amy are no match for his welcoming charm and his baiting dialogue commiserating about how teachers suck. The twisted confidence in his voice and the remorseless brutality of his violence, partnered with the knowledge that evil such as his exists in the real world, makes Josh a terrifying villain without his face ever being shown.
Criticism of “Megan Is Missing” has accused it of inflated social relevance and pompous self-importance. Others can argue about the film’s value as cautionary edutainment. The final 22 minutes is so unflinching that allowing teenagers to view it is questionable anyway. There is a message in there for those who wish to find it, but “Megan Is Missing” offers it without pandering or wagging a finger. Those who only want a stark horror film rooted in reality that engraves nightmarish imagery in the mind's eye will find that “Megan Is Missing” can accommodate in spades.
Review Score: 80