We’ve seen one person manage the duties of a writer, director, and actor in the past, and sometimes it goes really well. Missing Child, the brainchild of Luke Sabis, is not one of these times. Nearly every aspect of this droll thriller falls flat. It sports a confusing story that never really feels focused. There are only three real characters, all of which lack clear motivation at various points and are portrayed by actors that are in over their heads (especially Sabis). There is a kernel of an interesting story here, and by squinting one could come to admire the intention behind this mess. But, mostly we’re left with a paint-by-numbers “disturbing thriller” that can never hone its focus long enough to accomplish much of value.
Missing Child is not particularly complex from the perspective of plot. Gia (Kristen Ruhlin) is a young woman who never knew her biological parents. After her bounty-hunter boyfriend (Luke Sabis) discovers that she very closely resembles a three-year-old girl who was kidnapped, the two travel to meet with the father of the missing girl, a man named Henry (Charles Gorgano). This premise has a good chance to be intriguing. Unfortunately, the follow-through is just not there, and at almost every turn something stupid happens to botch any promise which may have existed.
In a film with such an intimate location and few cast members, it is crucial that every character be compelling and well-acted, because even a single misstep can mar the chemistry between the characters. This is precisely what happens, as only Gia is even remotely likeable as a character, and I think it is fairly clear that Ruhlin is the most-accomplished actor on set. Her character is understandably damaged, but makes some truly baffling choices throughout the film. She stands out in contrast to the two disasters that are the male leads. Joe is terrible from his first moment on screen to his last. The character is boring and blunt, which would be enough of a sin by itself, but Sabis compounds his writing and directing mistakes by turning in an embarrassing performance. It is nails-on-chalkboard bad acting. The Henry character seems okay at first, but he just isn’t capable of delivering some of these confusing, off-putting lines with any real conviction or believably. His character is also a heavy-handed Jesus freak painted with broad strokes.
Not to be outdone by the tsunami of stupid characters, the plot turns and attempts at tension are manufactured and terrible. The twists don’t often make sense and feel forced, and so many of the motivations of the characters are blunt and surface-level. There is a lot of over-explaining of mundane details and actions, while very large questions remain completely unanswered (like, for instance, any detail of Gia’s kidnapping, foster parents, etc, etc). Each twist and turn is stupider than the last, but the cake has to go to the patently bizarre and borderline offensive sexuality of the film. I suppose a silver medal can go to the religious claptrap, which smacks of a college-freshman atheist who brings a treatment to a screenwriting 101 workshop.
Sabis also flounders as a director. I don’t know if I have ever seen a movie so reluctant to show its protagonist delivering her lines on screen. I can’t tell if there was a lot of ADR so they couldn’t show Kristen Ruhlin’s face on screen, or if Sabis simply didn’t want the camera on her when she was talking. It gets really frustrating and distracting by the end of the film. There are cloying musical cues that make sure you know when a moment is important or sad. We’re also treated to a few instances of the screen slowly fading to black as a means of moving on to the next scene, and there are quick, interspersed flashbacks to Gia’s childhood that are especially debilitating. It is all just enough to irk the audience out of the story, and suggests a directorial hand that lacks focus.
I think that Missing Child means to address serious themes like self-discovery, absolution, and reaching a place of comfort despite past sins. But it is too broad for anything like that to really shine through the various acts of stupidity. Even poor movies don’t deserve to be spoiled, but suffice to say that this film goes completely off the rails about halfway through, and never finds them again. It isn’t really all that of a surprise; if a film can barely get one reasonable performance from three actors, features terrible plotting, and sports confusing direction/editing choices, then it is no wonder it fails to express a coherent theme.
With Missing Child, Luke Sabis, has put together a glorified Lifetime movie – at best. Kristen Ruhlin is a lone bright spot, but I use that term reluctantly. It’s possible that she’s simply the least dim. Ultimately, this is a difficult film to recommend because there are so many missteps that even casual audiences will likely balk at some aspect of the movie. One can certainly admire and appreciate the microbudget approach to a thriller of this nature, but the end product simply doesn’t add up to the potential of the initial premise.
I was offered a screener of Missing Child for review, but you can visit the film’s website to watch a trailer and sign up for updates (like when the film will be released on DVD and VOD, which should be in the near future). There are also links to the film’s facebook page and reviews of the film that offer a different perspective of the film if you feel I am being overly harsh.