Lost Girls is a lighter reflection of the morbid reality. It has all the the tappings of a murder mystery – a missing girl, a crime scene far from regularity, a serial killer on loose among others- but transcends beyond the genre. With the words ‘An Unsolved American Mystery’ immediately preceding the film’s title, there’s more than what’s visible on the surface. An unsolved mystery would have been fine, but the inclusion of ‘American’ in the phrase raises a question after the film is over. Is that an intentional call out to the system? The film made me strongly feel so.
Based on the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert in 2010, the film dramatises the journey of Shannan’s mother, Mari, as she tries to find the miscreant behind the disappearance of her 24-year old, emotionally distant daughter. What stands out about this film is that it doesn’t try to be a murder mystery despite the availability of all the necessary aforementioned ingredients. The screenplay doesn’t focus on solving the puzzle. What attributes to this narrative treatment is the fact that the film borrows information which is already available in the public domain. These bits and pieces of incidents only serve as the building blocks. What actually pumps in life is the internal turmoil the incidents put the family through. Liz Garbus, the filmmaker, is concerned more about the process than the inevitable outcome. Which is why the film never goes to the peak. The shocking revelation or twist, generic terms that are associated with mysteries are nonexistent here.
Although it appears as one, Lost Girls is not a murder mystery, it takes a while to realize this, and regardless at which point you realize this, your perspective and expectation from the film change. The narrative is heavily invigorated by its characters, I’m sorry, the humans it is portraying. Mari Gilbert, beautifully embodied by Amy Ryan, goes beyond the bounds of mere character arc, speaking of which, there isn’t one. That’s because she is a real person and real people aren’t confined to one characteristic trait. She is flawed, caring, guilty, and everything that comes with the burden of being just another human. She is complicated, to summon in a word, but not the messy kind of complicated, just the real kind. Furthermore, the economic facets only mushroom the existing crisis. Mari toils to pay the bills and makes sure that her younger daughters are fed, while subsequently hassling to find the whereabouts of her eldest daughter. There you have it, a working-class single mother hustling through the badgering world. A potent scene has Mari and Serra, her younger daughter, fiercely exchanging words. When Serra questions Mari why she left Shannan in foster care, a devastated Mari replies how onerous it had become for her to take care of Shannan. This scene exhibits her vulnerability and guilt instead of concluding ‘this is what she is’.
On the other hand of the film is subtle class criticism, advocated by multiple instances. Let it be the housing community with ‘Be Nice or Leave’ written on it’s gate, which is where Shannan disappears, or the police officer who assures Mari that they will find her daughter, Sharon. Exclude Mari’s vocal statements in end the about the police’s incompetency, this point is still conveyed. Sequences that bring together women of families which lost girls in similar cases, are heart wrenching, but they never switch on the melodramatic mode. Undoubtedly, the film has a melancholic vibe, such is the subject matter. However, the characters never lose hope.
Although an efficacious tragedy, the film only takes a very specific part of this family’s life. Further emphasis would have metamorphosed it into an alarming tale of mental health, which it staggeringly envelopes with existing conversations. In 95 minutes, the film manages to bundle years of anguish, and creates an affliction for its people even after their onscreen journey ends.
Lost Girls is now streaming on Netflix.
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