(CNN) — Released in 2018, “Searching” was produced before the coronavirus pandemic but with the benefit of hindsight, it felt like the ultimate Covid movie, claustrophobically focusing on a father as he scours the Web for clues about his missing daughter. “Missing” flips the generational script, in a movie that’s still plenty twisty and watchable while laboring, perhaps inevitably, to hit “refresh” on the formula.
This time around, perhaps appropriately, it’s the 18-year-old June (“Euphoria’s” Storm Reid) who is forced to go on the hunt after her widowed mom (Nia Long) doesn’t return as scheduled after a trip to Colombia with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung). It doesn’t help that June has been distant and surly — irritated that mom will be away on Father’s Day — prompting guilt to go hand in hand with surprises as her search unearths clues and shocking secrets in near-equal measure.
Written and directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, who edited the previous film that starred John Cho, “Missing” again filters the audience’s view through a computer screen, and has considerable fun with demonstrating just how trackable people are online, from credit-card receipts and cellphone locations to Ring video and cameras situated at highly trafficked tourist spots.
Putting the daughter on the case also adds some amusing wrinkles to the whole notion of how well different generations have mastered technology, including June’s savvier-than-mom ability to navigate advances like Facetime and decipher passwords.
Still, “Missing” appears plagued by a desire to not just match but outdo its predecessor, which results in some tortured turns down the final stretch. Until then, the film does an admirable job of keeping the audience guessing as conflicting bits of information dribble out, pointing the frantic June in different directions, in a state of constant agitation that Reid wonderfully conveys.
Although there have been various experiments with relatively inexpensive Zoom-style filmmaking in the age of Covid quarantines, “Searching” not only preceded that trend but generally achieved it with better results than most of what followed.
“Missing” doesn’t try to reinvent the concept so much as recycle it, and the more the audience is willing to just roll with that, the more they’ll enjoy it. Yet even making that allowance, it should be taken as a cautionary note to any plans for future sequels (or reboots) that this sleuthing-by-computer thriller is already beginning to run in low-power mode.
“Missing” premieres January 20 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.