Title: Megan is Missing
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Michael Goi
Length: 89 mins
Starring: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite
The story behind Megan is Missing is almost as remarkable as the film itself. Despite being initially released in 2011 it was shot in the found footage format made famous by the Blair Witch Project (1999) five years earlier on a miniscule budget of around $30k. Writer/Director Michael Goi claimed the reason for the gap between production and release was down to the objectionable subject matter. He simply couldn’t find anyone to distribute it until Anchor Bay stepped up. Due to the budgetary constraints involved, and to give the movie a ‘raw’ feeling, it was made over the course of a week by a crew of just five using only minimal equipment. It was claimed that this drive for authenticity was also the reasoning behind using largely juvenile, unknown actors, though it’s difficult to see many Hollywood A-listers (or even Z-listers) signing on to a project by a newbie director when those kinds of figures are being bandied around. It was originally marketed as an educational film about the dangers of the internet with Goi stating his desire for it to serve as a ‘wake up call’ to parents. However, it later found considerable traction in the teen horror market.
The story follows popular Californian high-school student Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) who meets up with ‘Josh,’ a boy she had been interacting with online, and subsequently vanishes without trace prompting her less-popular best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) to set out to find her. The first half of the film provides an unflinching snapshot into the complicated, overlapping lives of teens in the technological age where bullying and peer pressure is rife, interspersed with regular bouts of slut-shaming, social exclusion and a plethora of other disturbing yet apparently all-too common practices. It’s difficult to watch and not recognize something of yourself in there somewhere, and credit has to be given where it’s due for shining a light on some of the more damaging aspects of teenage life. If you have kids that age, this is what they deal with on a daily basis but never tell you about, and it’s fucking terrifying. All this occurs before the watershed point about two-thirds through where everything is ramped up several hundred notches. Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers stating: “Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words ‘photo number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”
As the movie is played out entirely on a screen (or a screen within a screen) through a clumsy combination of supposedly recovered video tapes, photographs, and news reports, it technically belongs to the Computer Screen (aka Desktop Film) genre, which has risen to prominence on the back of increased use of social media. In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on social media platform TikTok, where it found its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” To date, the hashtag for the film has over 84 million views, much of the attention seemingly stemming from persistent rumours that the footage is real. It’s not. But nevertheless, the movie has been dogged by controversey since its release, spawned no end of debate, and firmly divided opinion. An article on Thought Catalogue says, “Everyone has those scenes from the end of the movie etched into their mind forever. This is one of the scariest movies from the past 10 years and no one talks about it,” while HorrorNews.net said that the first portion of the film “really works,” although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes “went a little overboard.” Film critic Jamie Dexter perhaps puts it best saying, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do.”
That final third is definitely hard to watch. I think the most difficult thing to reconcile is the fact that **spoiler alert** he gets away with it. After being put through over 80 minutes of debilitating psychological trauma, the viewer is entitled to expect some retribution, some kind of payback because no evil deed goes unpunished, right? Right? Yeah, we all know that isn’t always the case in real life. But this is a film, dammit. Somebody had control over it. And that somebody could easily have made ‘Josh’ fall over a tree root and bang his head on a rock or something at the end. But no. This is the kind of nightmare scenario we read about in newspapers, presented to us in vivid, unflinching, excruciating detail. Indeed, Goi based the film on real life cases of child abduction. Most of the criticism, apart from that concerning the content, was directed at the unprofessional, ‘thrown together’ feel, completely missing the fact that this was the intention from the start. Goi was going for the kind of gritty realism you just don’t get with massive budgets and slick Hollywood production. He succeeded.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Viewer discretion is advised.
The movie was banned by New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification on the grounds of containing sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree that if it was released it would be ‘injurious to the public good’. The officials went on to say that the movie relished the spectacle of one girl’s ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene, and that it sexualized the lives of teenaged girls to a “highly exploitative degree.” Whilst I deplore censorship in any form, to be fair they weren’t far off the mark there.