(Warning: this review contains SPOILERS.)
In the novel Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis chronicled the lives of vapid Los Angeles teens coasting on a wave of sex, drugs, and parties. Sometimes, in a display of power-through-riches, the more depraved of the clique would accost young women and use them as victims in snuff films (all to the dazed “amusement” of the disaffected onlookers). Despite its excesses, the novel was a model of literary restraint, with Ellis rarely – if ever – venturing into emotional territory. As many other artists have before and since, he maintains Los Angeles as a specter of shallow evil, with an insatiable appetite for unsuspecting victims oblivious to its dark side.
I consider myself a fan of Ellis’s output, so I should be scrambling to lump praise upon Megan is Missing, which views Los Angeles through the same cynical lens and plumbs depths of darkness and cruelty to a degree so unpleasant it borders on the unbearable…right?
When I think of films that rattle me with their subject matter – Salo; Martyrs; Irreversible; and Bully, to name a few – they have well-conceived stories, well-written characters, and an attention to aesthetic detail that – in some cases, just barely – skirts flat-out exploitation. They each pull off the trick of not making distasteful material comfortable for the viewer.
Megan is Missing, on the other hand, is the type of rape-fantasy chicken-choker that gives horror movies a bad name. In many ways, it owes a debt to the prurient shock value of A Serbian Film…but even that film, for all its missteps, had an undeniable resonance that transcended its base desire to mortify the viewer.
The teenage characters of Megan is Missing could teach the hellraisers of Heathers lessons in how to achieve Antichrist levels of cruelty. They embody the worst, most cliched traits of young women in cinema: namely that they are spoiled, unsupervised, shallow, and have a bilious contempt for anybody less attractive and/or popular (for all the illegal shenanigans of The Bling Ring, at least that group of wealthy misfits was inclusive). The boys are no better, coming across as raging rich hard-ons, fuck-for-a-hit drug dealers, or stoned-voiced predators who could be rapists or killers at the drop of a zipper. This melting pot of antisocial behavior is nauseating, to say the least, with writer-director Michael Goi making even the two remotely sympathetic characters victims of their own “must record everything” stupidity.
And that’s to say nothing of the bowels-of-hell torture sequence that comprises the film’s final third.
Megan is Missing wants to earn Reality Points with its structure: a mix of various recordings (cell phone; Skype; surveillance camera), prefaced by intertitles, to stitch together a faux documentary about the main character’s (Rachel Quinn) disappearance. As a method of conveying objectivity in actual documentaries, this works. The effect alternates between harrowing and distracting (the TV-news segments recall similar overacted scenes from Gone Girl – the difference being David Fincher’s knowingly satiric take on the material), and some of it – including a sensationalized re-enactment of the abduction – becomes offensive in its exaggeration. Insofar as its media-as-the-Devil asides are concerned, Megan doesn’t hammer as deafeningly as Natural Born Killers or as prophetically as Network.
The cliches pulled from other teen-centric flicks feel obligatory. Megan has a troubled home life, and shacks up with a succession of scummy douchebags as a result; is it redundant to mention she was sexually abused by her now-imprisoned stepfather? (The way Goi depicts it, all female teens in Los Angeles are anticipating lucrative porn careers once they graduate high school.) She confides her personal secrets to best friend Amy (Amber Perkins) – a meek, shy, and frequently ostracized girl who possesses a naivete that exists somewhere between noble and pathetic. (Yeah, their relationship is right out of Jennifer’s Body.) On her fourteenth birthday, Amy is gifted a camcorder and starts a video diary, which she eventually incorporates into her search for Megan. She’s the most likable character in the whole film; the closest we get to an audience surrogate…and she falls victim to her own naivete.
What makes this worse is how Goi inflicts the worst tortures on Amy. Her decision to film everything and make contact with Megan’s mysterious final beau, Josh (Dean Waite), is admittedly stupid; but turning her into a virgin sacrifice for some psychotic, piece-of-shit serial killer takes the material into a whole other realm of sickening exploitation (and Goi makes sure to film the torture and humiliation in stark close-up). By the time Amy is reduced to plea-bargaining and confessing false sentiments of love to her could-care-less captor, my stomach was rolling in disgust.
The point of Megan is Missing seems to be: the world is full of predatory sickos, and teenagers are narcissistic morons fixated on drugging, fucking, and being generally horrible human beings. Or, in the parlance of the males in this movie, “stop being so stupid, and you won’t get raped and murdered, huh-huh. Fist-bump!”
Jonny Numb’s IMDb Rating: 2 out of 10