To the rest of town, Jane (Eiza González) is just another missing person whose poster will be pinned onto a wall to almost never be looked at again. Not however for her best friend Heidi (Lucy Fry), who refuses to believe that she just disappeared. She travels the desert searching for her friend, crossing paths with an egalitarian cult who consume mind-expanding drugs, meditate and generally manipulate its members.
If your first thought is ‘that escalated quickly,’ you’re both right and wrong. The sudden (and curiously underwhelming) appearance of a cult is a bit of a divergence from the more methodical, realist tone of the film up until that point. To say that anything about it is quick however underestimates how slow the film can feel at times. Considering the matter at hand – the sudden disappearance of a recently-married woman – there is unusually little urgency in the story.
Such nonchalant reactions to missing persons may be part of the point. The issue is that the kind of suspense you would expect from such a situation is strangely amiss. The first forty minutes especially suffers badly from a lack of any tangible conflict, quite happy to mellow along with some long shots of desolate outback and intimately-shot conversations. Things pick up towards the ending, but She’s Missing still feels like it takes a concentrated effort to get through, the kind of effort that it doesn’t fully reward in return.
That being said, the film has things to offer. Fuelling the narrative the whole time is Fry’s performance as the slightly lost Heidi. It is surprisingly rare that you can say a character feels satisfyingly real, like you might know this person in real life. It is thanks to Fry’s naturalistic, flowing performance that this is exactly what Heidi feels like. Even if the story itself wavers, Fry’s interactions with others provide their own brief moments of interest and poignancy. Her conversations with the mother of another missing person hit the intended emotional mark well. González too does well to give Jane a tangible sense of transformation between the first and second half of the film. Her aim is to have more power as an individual, driving her actions and González’s performance through until the final shot.
Out of focus shots are the go-to technique for when a character is on hallucinogens, and director Alexandra McGuinness handles these trippy moments in confident ways. She’s Missing however seems to feel more like itself in the simple moments. It is in some early conversations between Jane and Heidi, or in the shots of near-empty rooms and desert, that the film can feel the most immersive. Basing itself around realistic characters so much gives the film a genuine transportative power, as if you are among the characters and part of their relationships. It doesn’t quite hold until the end, but is quietly impressive nonetheless.
She’s Missing lacks the drive and intrigue that the plot needs to make it more than an interesting, well-performed indie film. But interesting and well-performed it remains, making the film worth a watch for a momentary transportation to the contemporary American South, with all the details of life that go on there. Fry’s performance ensures that Heidi’s experiences of loss and power on the road, however mundane, are enough to leave you silently impressed at the basics of this character-driven story.
She’s Missing is released on iTunes and On Demand from 1st July on Sky Store, Virgin Media, Google Play, Youtube and Amazon.