Written by Zoe Rose Smith
Back in 2011 an independent psychological horror film was released by Michael Goi that caused an uproar in New Zealand, and even started to resurface in news stories in the UK a few years later. That film is none other than the found footage horror Megan Is Missing. Even though this film wasn’t designed to sit comfortably in the extreme cinema world, it’s found itself bound and gagged into that niche after exploiting a topic that has a consensus of being a little too close to home for most viewers.
Megan is your typical outgoing 14 year old girl; she’s popular at school with the girls and the boys, she spends a lot of her time online chatting to friends, has problems with her mother and sneaks out to parties to underage drink. Her best friend, Amy, is a complete contrast of personalities to Megan as she loves staying at home, has no real friends, spends a lot of time with her parents and is seen as the outcast at school. But even as polar opposites, they have a close and inseparable bond which we follow through their webcams, phone cameras and other handheld camera footage. Their world starts to take a dark twist when a boy called Josh starts chatting to Megan over the internet. When Megan goes missing one day, it’s up to Amy to piece together the puzzle and help to find her best friend before it’s too late.
The first two acts of the film are heavily focused on building character development and ensuring that the audience has some kind of connect with these two teenagers. Found footage is a hard type of film to master, yet this one is presented well and really helps us to see Megan and Amy’s private lives and then how they communicate and interact with one another. From the start it’s clear that Megan is the wild child; she’s talking to older boys about performing fellatio in order to obtain cocaine from them, and attends parties that involve alcohol, drugs and everything else in between. Amy is a sweet, shy and naive 13 year old that looks up to Megan, even though she doesn’t agree with everything that she does. Rachel Quinn (Megan) and Amber Perkins (Amy) are outstanding in making the audience understand the relationship between the two and pull recognitions on personal childhood friendships to feel closer to the characters.
With both of the protagonists being so young, we are immediately shocked by some of the things they are portrayed doing; committing sexual acts and taking drugs is hard to watch when we see them both as children, which they are. These girls are so naive and vulnerable, even though they try to act much older than their years but it shows because they are easy to manipulate, especially by the men around them. There is one particular scene where Megan is explaining to Amy what giving a blowjob feels like; she details a time at camp when she was 10 years old, and a 17 year old took her into the store room and forced her to do this to him. Even though Megan details the event to Amy is if it were normal, the viewer is conscious of the fact that she was raped as a child by an adult. This is the first time we are really made to feel uncomfortable and realise just how much these girls are at danger from perverse men. Even though it is a scene where it is just two girls talking, it’s psychologically more disturbing than many of the extreme gore and horror scenes seen within other films.
Megan Is Missing is fairly tame for the first two acts of the movie, but starts to very slowly burn out like a dying candle. The themes become darker and darker, and our sense of dread and foreboding builds with every interaction that is had, it is almost feels frustrating to watch as we want to save these girls from a destiny that already looks destitute and hopeless for them. Once Megan goes missing, it is only a matter of time before the film takes a terrifying 360 and shows the audience exactly what we didn’t want to see. Even though we always know that something awful is on the way, it still shocks to see how quickly the film flips around and becomes something that will leave you feeling depressed, dirty and scarred in a matter of moments.
Goi did not intentionally set out to make an extreme horror film, but by using tropes such as peadophilia, abduction, torture, rape and murder, all against young children, he has found his film pushed into this category with no way back. Goi has said he had the intention of this film being an educational piece, to open the eyes of people to the dangers that young people are exposed to when they have unmonitored access to the internet. The story is based on various cases of children being groomed, abducted and murdered by adults and therefore this became a sore point for viewers and critics as they exclaimed that Goi was showing these young girls in an exploitative and over-sexualised way, which was unnecessary and didn’t give a message to anyone. In New Zealand the OFLC banned the film stating that is was “objectionable” and that the sexual violence showed in the film should not be seen, and did nothing to get Goi’s message across. As with all films that feature harm to children, there will always be backlash and a considerable argument that it might not be beneficial to an audience to see the crimes against said children being committed.
Megan Is Missing is a distressing look at the realities behind vulnerability, the damaging effects of online grooming and the truth behind what happens to those unfortunate to become victims at the hands of pure evil. This is a film that will leave you in turmoil for a long time afterwards; it gnaws away at your subconscious mind and doesn’t allow you to escape from the atrocities that it make so clear. This is an extreme film by nature, and shouldn’t be thrown around like an exciting keepsake in the collection of an extreme horror fanatic.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5