Movie Review: “Megan is Missing”

   Megan is Missing is a film I can’t say I think a lot about.

   If I were to have imagined what I would write about Megan is Missing in a review, I would wager the reaction would be shrugged shoulders. This is either a testament to how little of an impression the film left on me or the lack of attention I paid to it. With over a decade between me and the first time I watched the film, I can only remember bits and pieces about it. If I were to write a franken-review, trying to piece together what I do remember – I think I would compare it to The Poughkeepsie Tape, a mediocre film that managed to capture people’s attention based on only one or two unique parts about it. Thankfully for Megan is Missing, I always try to give every film a fair shake on Nickelbib, which means I will sit down and watch the film from beginning to end. After all, I do hear it mentioned every once in a while in horror circles, sometimes referred to as one of the darkest, most depraved films ever created, or one of the “scariest films of 2011”. I either hear that, or the reviews will outright rip the film to shreds. Which is the more accurate assessment?

   Frankly, I had always wondered if the film had anything unique to say (like The Golden Glove, or the fantastic film I Saw the Devil), or if it was more an example of shock value being mistaken for quality (a la A Serbian Film). In general, I am not usually rattled by films. I think it is more a result of having watched horror films my entire life and having created a distinct, healthy line to what is real and make believe. I am not likely to be offended by subject-matter, as long as it isn’t a film by a Nazi advocating the Holocaust or a film recommending you commit hate crimes. It is mostly about how the story is presented and what it expects the viewers to make of it. For example, in Django Unchained, the bad guys are clearly the slave owners. It isn’t a recruitment video for the Klu Klux Klan. Even in A Serbian Film, Milo’s character is appalled by the abhorrent events unfolding before him and it isn’t advocating or supporting what is happening, it is a horror show. The film, in turn, wants you to be offended. I think that is an important distinction.

   The only thing that ever personally offended me about A Serbian Film was the fact that it featured child actors (small child actors, at that) in intense sexual scenarios. Obviously, they weren’t participants in the scenes, in fact, they likely only understood a vague context for the film – but, all I can say is, if you were the son who was involved in A Serbian Film, I can imagine you might feel a little upset to learn that you were in a film like that, playing that character. That’s the kind of thing that I think is offensive. Things like children put in scenarios they have no business being in, or aren’t old enough to understand the gravity of what they agreed to be involved in. I also don’t love when stern directors mistreat their cast, or method actors mistreat others in the name of their art.

   The film was written and directed by Michael Goi, who is most known for his work on Scream Queens and American Horror Story.

    Early on, the dialogue in Megan is Missing might be enough to make a person squirm. This includes scenes like the titular character Megan describing in extensive detail being sexually assaulted by a much older camp counselor, and being raped by her father. This, of course, paints the portrait of the dual characters in this film: Megan and Amy. It’s uncomfortable and creepy, and apparently, the camp counselor scene is a transcript from an actual conversation that the director had on hand (gotta say, I don’t love that). I personally hope that is a lie on his end, and chances are, I would wager that it probably is. Both scenes (the one where Megan goes in extensive detail about a blowjob and where she details being raped by her father) feel weird to say the least. At the same time, I can understand why they were included. It isn’t exactly nuanced and it is more than a little ham-fisted, but it is meant to illustrate how messed up her life has been. And, believe me, it’s an ugly part of the world, but you do hear these kinds of things. It’s squirmy and it’s uncomfortable, and although I don’t think they put their best foot forward with how they approached the subject matter, I can see why they were trying to accomplish. On some level, they even succeed. If it makes you squirmy and uncomfortable, I am confident that is what the director intended (but that isn’t to say that you are squirmy and uncomfortable for the reasons he intended). It’s weird to hear a young girl riff about blowjobs, I think we can all probably agree with that. But, what I personally took from it was the way she didn’t seem to understand she was raped in that scenario. She didn’t process it. She simply recounted it as a funny anecdote in her life and I think that is what was intended, to show how broken and afflicted she was. 

   Megan has low self-esteem and has been treated poorly for most of her life, and that treatment has negatively affected her behavior and the choices she makes. Meanwhile, her friend Amy, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the spectrum. She lives a good life and has a nice house, with parents who are thoughtful and caring, and has largely been allowed to keep her innocence. In fact, whereas most would say Megan’s character is one who had to “grow up quick” because of her abuse, Amy’s character comes off particularly naive. As characters, they both seem drawn to each other for how different they are from one another. Amy being shy and introverted craves the popularity that Megan has, and Megan being outspoken and very exposed craves that hopefulness and sturdiness that Amy has. It is a nice side-by-side comparison, and it helped both the characters fill out and feel like they have a certain level of depth to them in spite of the short time they have to work with.

   In case you are curious, the main actors in this film, who play 14-year-old girls and look the part, were actually seventeen and nineteen respectively (at least from what I have been able to dig up). This still isn’t ideal. Normally, when there is a role for a child, I prefer it to be a child. If I am watching Percy Jackson, that is. Megan is Missing? Nah.

    The acting is interesting in this film. The core three – those being Megan, Amy, and Josh, I feel were decent throughout. The rest of them ranged from subpar to outright awful, with that sentiment also applying to the character traits they were given. The film purposely tries to create this sentiment of Amy being despised by her classmates, but, my God, did they make everyone an asshole in this film. 

   As this is a film that is largely driven by its high concept nature, presented by uncovered footage, being “Based on a True Story”, and trying to pass itself off as legitimate, a lot of the viewers’ immersion will be based on how it does on certain details. For instance, the fact that the actors actually look like they could be fourteen is a plus. The way that evidence is presented and the explanation for how it is discovered, like JPEG’s circulating on fetish forums, is smart. (The image itself is also striking enough without being too over-the-top.) Ultimately, your reaction to this film will largely depend on whether you are willing to buy what they are selling and suspend disbelief, and, to some degree, I was. The only major part I disliked were some scenes involving the news people. There is one scene where they reenacted Megan’s kidnapping and it feels so cheesy and over the top that it damn near breaks the film. I was also going to criticize how the journalists flagged down Amy to ask her questions as she was leaving the school – and I still think it is was pretty corny, but, then I learned that journalists flagged down Ashley Pond at the bus stop (the young girl whose heinous murder this film is loosely influenced by). So, it’s similar. I wish they would have had the journalists do something shadier and less direct like that, as how it is portrayed in this film is awkward and feels over the top.

   The last twenty minutes are the most striking of this film. They are the “pay off”, if you will. The events depicted are slow, mean-spirited, and ultimately, effective. Beyond the gratuity of it all, you have to have some level of appreciation for exactly what it did. It spends the whole film teeing up its finish. It spends all its time showing you Amy’s innocence and her hopefulness and naivete, and then, in one stretch, you are shown it being taken away from her. Not only that, but, you spend the whole time seeing the film from the voyeuristic perspective of the victims, until the script is flipped dramatically. It’s heartbreaking, it’s unrelenting, and it shows the world can be a cruel, cruel place.

   Again, I want to reiterate that I have seen the discourse about this film. I know a lot of people really, really don’t like the acting and a lot of people really, really, really don’t like the film’s general existence, as a matter of fact. What I have seen repeated most online is that they believe it is less a cautionary tale and more an exercise in the director’s pent up sexual desires, that it is exploitative, or an example of some kind of wish fulfillment. I believe that is both unfounded and pretty unfair, personally. I can absolutely understand the argument that a film like this featuring minors shouldn’t likely be allowed to be made. In fact, we are fairly in agreement on the fact. Just seeing all the things that happened on Nickelodeon TV shows and the adult situations they were put into and how those moments affected them later in life, I can only begin to imagine the damage being involved in something like this could do. However, I do definitely think this film is, from ground up, full intended as a cautionary tale and it does show through in the finished product.

    This isn’t Hallmark trying to advise with a tale of woes about the dangers of the internet, this is an in your face, cold film, depicting some of the worst things that can be done to another person, and is presented in a (mostly) grounded fashion. Is it one of the most depraved films I have seen? Yeah, kind of.

  It isn’t exactly nuanced and isn’t even exactly what I would call good, but I can see the merit and the potential. It is a “scared straight” story with fangs, and although it doesn’t necessarily make the best use of its parts, I can at least see that the parts were there. It does a rarity in the genre in that it has something to say and has a bluntness in how it wants to say it. 

Rating: – 2.5 out of 5.0