If a film is going to revolve entirely around a main character’s mysterious disappearance, the least that should happen is that the viewer actually cares. Such, unfortunately, is not the case with the sophomore feature from Irish writer-director Alexandria McGuinness (Lotus Eaters), which sacrifices suspense and narrative coherence for moody atmospherics and hallucinatory visuals. Uninvolving to the extreme, She’s Missing misses the mark entirely.
The central characters are two young women living in a small desert town in New Mexico, where clearly nothing of importance ever happens. Heidi (Australian actress Lucy Fry, currently seen on Godfather of Harlem) is a waitress at a truck-stop diner whose customers eye her lustily, while her vivacious, sexy buddy Jane (the charismatic Eiza González, Hobbs & Shaw) is a casino bartender and aspiring rodeo queen.
Heidi becomes discomfited when Jane suddenly informs her she’s going to get married to a soldier (Christopher Jane Wallace) who’s about to be deployed, and Jane plans to move to the military base where he lives, which she clearly sees as a way to escape her oppressive environment. Not long afterward, following a rodeo competition in which she comes up short, Jane goes missing, leading Heidi to embark on a lengthy search for her vanished friend.
Not that Heidi’s quest has any real urgency to it. Traipsing through a bleak desert environment in which women seem to disappear in eerily frequent fashion (the diner’s walls are littered with “Missing” posters), Heidi encounters a variety of colorful types, including Jane’s estranged, uninterested mother, who offer little to no concrete information. Her search eventually leads her to a bizarre cult whose magnetic leader (Josh Hartnett) keeps his followers hooked on hallucinogenic cactus juice.
Along the way, she also develops a romance with one of the diner’s new patrons, Lyle (Christian Camargo, The Twilight Saga), an older, wannabe cowboy who works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has come to the economically depressed, dusty backwater town to set up a detention center.
Nothing remotely compelling happens for most of the running time, making She’s Missing seem much longer than it actually is. The filmmaker seems to think that creating an atmosphere of surreal mystery is enough to sustain our interest, but despite her best efforts at stylization, including woozy, dreamlike visuals, overly emphatic editing and an insistently ominous musical score, the talky proceedings rarely rise above the level of the mundane.
Fry’s intense, magnetic performance is the film’s strongest asset, providing an emotional urgency that is otherwise sorely missing as her character increasingly gains confidence and self-definition. But it’s not enough to save the film, which peters out in a conclusion as oblique as it is unsatisfying. Unless, presumably, you’re seriously high on cactus juice.
Production companies: Ripple World, TW Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Lucy Fry, Eiza González, Christian Camargo, Josh Hartnett, Sheila Vand, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Blake Berris
Director-screenwriter: Alexandria McGuinness
Producers: Anna O’Malley, Dominic Wright, Eamonn Cleary
Executive producers: Jacqueline Kerrin, Graham Appleby, Adam Stanhope, Lesley McKimm
Director of photography: Gareth Munden
Production designer: Carol Uraneck
Costume designer: Cynthia Fortune Ryan
Music: Dave Harrington
Editor: Mairead McIvor
Casting: Deanna Brigidi