Megan is Missing
by Barry Meyer
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Another entry into the ever growing subgenre of found footage frighteners. Megan is Missing tells the story of a pair of teenage girls, BFFs Megan and Amy, two 14 year olds who virtually conduct their friendship in the virtual world. They have endless skype conversations, chat on their video phones, make home movies, and vlog about, like… whatever. And this is how the viewer watches them — as voyeurs, sifting though their computer and cell phone files (and later, news footage and surveillance footage). And the stuff we see is the stuff that any parent would dread to find on their kid’s laptop. The girls conversations are raw and intimate, revealing secrets to each other that they’d just die if anyone found out. Which is ironic, since they shelf their confessions on a medium that could potentially spread their private words worldwide within minutes. Their pursuit of adventurous vitrual living leads them to a online friendship with a stranger named “Josh.” He tells them he’s a skater dude, and the girls think his pics are hot — but, they should pay attention to their mom and dad, when they tell them not to trust strangers.
Megan is Missing is also very similar to Larry Clark’s Kids, in that it goes after some hot button teen issues, and demonstrates a generation which has gone unchecked. Amy is the quiet, smart type, who lives vicariously through her best friend Megan, the wild girl to Amy’s good girl. Megan catches a lot of hatin’ from her friends, for hanging around such a loser. But, as in any good coming of age story, Megan’s party-girl image is just a disguise to hide her very troubled and disturbing past, and she needs a goody-goody in her corner to help anchor her. Megan and Amy aren’t nearly as bombastic as Clark’s kids are. There are certainly a couple scenes in Megan that will make you shake your head, but it’s fairly tame in comparison.
And like Clark intended (questionably, it seems, at times), Choi wants to wake people up, by showing the way kids can be when they think they’re adult enough to not have to listen to the adults. They want to shock us “grownups” into reality. To demonstrate what could happen to the kids if we become too comfortable and trusting. In Kids, the end result was quite unsettling (on different levels), provocative (on different levels), and highly controversial. Larry Clark used the salacious images of the teens to both prove they were out of control, and to clearly satisfy his own personal demons. The end result was jarring, in either aspect. Writer/director Michael Choi doesn’t quite plum the depths that Clark swam in, keeping the shocking behavior tame in comparison. There is a scene in which Megan entertains Amy with a pretty graphic description of what she did, at the age of 10, to a 17 year old camp counselor (the shock of the matter is really less in what she did, as with the blase reaction from either girl), but that’s about as blue as it gets. But, an earlier scene, that has both girls attending a drug and sex party, is almost made-for-TV in comparison to Kids party sequences. This lack of real shocks is likely because Choi was hoping his film would become an advocate for the cause of missing and exploited children (the film is endorsed by KlassKids, formed by the father of Polly Klaas), and he was aiming to inform, more than exploit.
The major problem with Megan is Missing, however, is Choi’s direction. These mockumentaries are a hard nut to crack, because the goal is realism. What happens in front of the camera has to appear to be happening as it’s happening. Choi’s mistake is that he tries to control the action too much. He’s looking to force the dialogue to tell the story, and asking the performers to run through a list of moods and motions, instead of letting them experience the moment. The best of these types of movies use improvisation, where the actors are run through scenes so many times, letting the players live in that moment over and over, that it all becomes second nature. Choi, on the other hand, plays it too cautiously with his players, never trusting them to let their emotions run free.
But oddly, for a director to tries to force so much into any particular scene, he goes all Blair Witch with the ending, showing the viewer the final footage found — “uncut and unedited” — that reveals the fate of Megan and Amy. Horror fans will find a treat in this portion of the film, but will have to excuse Choi’s indulgence for “real time” (I won’t spoil it, but one particular segment of minutia goes on tediously for near 10 minutes) in payment.
Megan is Missing is an unsettling, at times, cautionary tale that comes off more as an Afterschool Special with naughty language, than the shocker it’s marketed to be.
Barry Meyer Barry Meyer was born to the world as the first scientifically produced Cathode Tube baby. He’s a film critic, videographer, editor, and writer, residing in Jamestown, NY.
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