‘Missing Child': Film Review

Missing Child Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Dominon3

Missing Child Still - H 2015

Absence makes the heart grow fiercer.

Luke Sabis’ debut feature concerns an orphaned young woman’s search for her birth parents.

A family-reunion melodrama that morphs into a nasty little neo-noir, Luke Sabis’ competently handled low-budget feature isn’t so much original as it is effective on its own terms. Response initially may be curtailed by a very limited theatrical release, but a VOD or streaming arrangement could eventually attract a broader audience.

Co-writer and director Sabis’ scenario focuses on Gia (Kristen Ruhlin), who’s still in her early 20s and remains a bit of a lost soul after growing up in foster homes as a young orphan. A former erotic model now preparing to study fashion at the university level, she lives with much older boyfriend Joe (Sabis), a bail bondsman and small-time scam artist. After Joe shows her a flyer with a photo of a former missing child that's been age-progressed to resemble an adult woman similar in appearance to Gia, she becomes intent on identifying her birth parents, as Joe encourages her to discover whether she’s actually the girl in the picture.

Visiting a suburban California home they meet Henry (Charles Gorgano), an elderly widower offering a reward to anyone reuniting him with his daughter, who disappeared at a young age nearly 20 years previous. Wary at first, he shows Gia around his house and into his daughter’s childhood bedroom, attempting to prompt any recollections from her. As Gia struggles with her uncertain memories, including hazy impressions that may represent her own youthful abduction, she begins to wonder if she might actually be Henry’s daughter. The older man has similar questions, but expresses mistrust of Joe and disapproval of Gia’s relationship with him. A sudden revelation shifts the trajectory of their entire visit, however, calling into question each character’s motivations and putting them all on an inevitable collision course.

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Sabis’ script, penned with co-writer Michael Barbuto, starts off unsteadily as it fitfully attempts to establish some history between Gia and Joe, but once they’ve arrived at Henry’s house, their messy backstory becomes fairly irrelevant as the reasons for Joe’s involvement in Gia’s family reunion become evident. His plans don’t take into account any ulterior motives on Henry’s part, however, a miscalculation that soon lands them in serious jeopardy. Although the dialogue too-often sounds forced, the screenwriters keep delivering enough of these minor twists to maintain interest.

Sabis makes a better filmmaker than an actor however, as his awkward delivery often betrays his relative lack of experience and a heavy New York accent makes a poor fit with the other castmembers. Ruhlin gets the little-girl-lost affectation about right, but can’t vary it sufficiently throughout the film, making her performance come across as generic and stereotyped. Gorgano turns out to be the real surprise, feinting at emotional trauma and religious devotion before finally revealing his traumatized dark side. The production itself never looks more than modestly accomplished, as the filmmakers scale the various elements to their clearly limited budget.

Production company: 9W Productions
Cast: Kristen Ruhlin, Luke Sabis, Charles Gorgano, Noah Straley, Jenifer Straley
Director: Luke Sabis
Screenwriters: Michael Barbuto, Luke Sabis
Producers: Sebastian Sadowski-Roger, Soraya Andrade
Executive producers: Michael Barbuto, Charles Gorgano, Luke Sabis
Director of photography: Francisco Bulgarelli
Production designer: James W. Thompson, Jr.
Editor: Emily Chiu
Music: Luke Sabis

No rating, 80 minutes