“Megan is Missing” is a found footage film written and directed by Michael Goi. The film follows two teenage girls who befriend an anonymous online predator. Megan is Missing is noteworthy for the film’s memorable and equally disturbing climactic ending.
The film opens with an on-screen message setting the stage for the film—“On January 14, 2007, 14-year-old Megan Stewart disappeared. Three weeks later, her best friend Amy Herman also vanished.” The 2011 American found footage film is presented in a pseudo-mockumentary style, consisting of a compilation of found camera footage from multiple sources.
The footage opens with two teenage friends living in North Hollywood who, despite their personality differences, bond over their shared dislike of the surrounding world. After the popular and flirtatious Megan (Rachel Quinn) goes missing, private and bookish Amy (Amber Perkins) sets out on a journey to discover what became of her best friend.
Of note, New Zealand banned Megan is Missing citing the film’s exploitative and graphic premise. Definitely not for the faint of heart, some viewers may find both the dialogue and sexual content to be overly vulgar. However, the influential nature of this very disturbing film is not lost on the horror community.
Director Michael Goi has his feet firmly planted in the horror genre. Following Megan is Missing, Michael Goi moved to television where he was the Director of Photography for Salem (2014) and most notably American Horror Story (2011).
Found Footage Cinematography
The found footage cinematography used throughout Megan Is Missing is generally good, but not without faults. The film consists of a composite of footage from webcams, cell phone video chats, a handheld video camera, a surveillance camera, and news footage.
The majority of footage presented during the film is from captured webcam and cell phone video chat footage and a handheld video camera. While the perspective and cinematography are convincing, the film never explains how or why the webcam and cell phone video chat footage were recorded, especially with such a high resolution given the limited capabilities of 2007 era mobile and desktop streaming video. The film would have benefited by including video and audio jumps, a lower resolution, and other video glitches to add realism. Nonetheless, setting aside this one (rather significant) disparity, the camerawork used for these devices is well done.
Of note is news footage playing back surveillance footage of Megan’s alleged abductor. While the footage itself plays out without issue, the sensationalism of the newscast takes away from the found footage conceit of the film. Even more over-the-top is a reenactment of Megan’s abduction, which is exaggerated to the point where it is more akin to a comedy skit rather a serious crime. This reviewer can only speculate that the filmmakers are using Megan is Missing as an exposition about the all-too-often over-sensationalized media coverage.
Megan Is Missing does a very good job capturing footage during a party scene. The film effectively incorporates breaks in the party music as the video camera is switched on and off. Many found footage films use a single unbroken music track during party sequences, which plays out as artificial, since the music will invariably jump when the video camera recording is not continuous.
Arguably, the best cinematography in the film takes place during the lengthy climactic ending. Without delving into spoilers, the final scene is filmed using a handheld video camera and effectively and realistically captures what takes place during the final terrifying moments of the film. The only criticism to be had during the finale is the audio clarity, which should have come across as more muffled and at a lower volume given the proximity of the camera to the character speaking.
Megan is Missing uses no special effects or sound design—the footage speaks for itself, which is a testament to the raw emotion and visceral reactions the film are likely to tease from prospective viewers.
Megan is Missing creates a convincing argument for filming throughout the entirety of the movie. The predominant filming reason is Amy’s recording of daily video diaries, both of herself and with her friend Megan. Amy often records alone, talking to the camera almost as a form of self-therapy. Unlike the many emotionally abusive relationships Amy has at school, her self-confessionals are among the only conversations she can safely have without being the target of hate-fueled remarks.
A second filming reason is the recording of the video chat service that Megan and Amy use on their desktop computers and cell phones. Other filming reasons include video captured by Megan’s kidnapper, which is filmed as part of his twisted cat-and-mouse game with the authorities. Finally, Megan is Missing also presents surveillance footage and news footage, which are captured organically as one would expect.
Found Footage Purity
The found footage purity of Megan is Missing is adequate, but somewhat lacking primarily due to the recording of Megan and Amy’s video chat sessions throughout the film. While it is conceivable that Megan and Amy may want to maintain a daily record of their video chat sessions, the technology driving how that might actually happen is problematic at best. As discussed earlier, recording streaming video from a mobile device is challenging to accept, particular back in 2007 when Megan is Missing takes place.
Also detracting from the series tone of Megan is Missing is the sensationalized news coverage and over-dramatized crime reenactment, which takes away from the gritty realism the film sets out to achieve.
Actresses Rachel Quinn as Megan and Amber Perkins as Amy realistically portray young and impressionable teenage girls. Rachel Quinn is effective as Rachel, a victim of child abuse who uses sex as a means of validating her worth as a person. Amber Perkins delivers a wonderful performance as Amy—an emotionally complex character who lacks self-confidence but manages to stay emotionally grounded, due largely to her strong family values and moral upbringing.
Megan and Amy are each emotionally damaged in their own unique way, yet they each crave what the other has. Megan is left wanting of Amy’s strong moral upbringing and loving family, while Amy admires Megan for her outgoingness and popularity. These two opposite personalities are drawn to one another for their differences.
Dean Waite, as Josh, does not have much in the way of screentime, but his voice acting coupled with strategically spartan filming delivers a decidedly disturbing villain that has a memorable payoff during the climactic ending of the film. The supporting cast of characters are not as strong as the film’s three leads, coming off as slightly plastic in their performances.
Megan is Missing is a character driven drama that relies solely on the relationship between the two main protagonists and the innocence of character Amy. The film takes its time establishing the relationship between Megan and Amy, with particular emphasis on Amy’s innocence as the setup for the horrific and traumatizing ending.
Megan (portrayed by Rachel Quinn) spends her time partying, taking illicit drugs, and having indiscriminate sex. The film devotes a good deal of time exploring Megan’s destructive lifestyle while reinforcing her character development. Amy’s (Amber Perkins) scenes are almost always filmed in seclusion, in her bedroom or secret hideaway in the woods, and balance her innocence with the reality of her best friend’s existence. The one and only time she does try socializing with her peers during a party dramatically concludes with her projectile vomiting on other houseguests.
Megan’s friend shows her a picture of a “skater boy” named Josh (Dean Waite) with whom she has been talking to on the video chat service. Megan is intrigued by the picture, and after examining Josh’s profile discovers that he’s local and adds him to her web account. The pair hit it off almost instantly, despite the fact that Josh’s webcam is supposedly broken. As a viewer, it’s difficult not to see the red flags a mile away in every yarn that Josh weaves, but Megan is too attracted by Josh’s charismatic personality to care. Megan agrees to meet up with Josh behind a local diner shortly after their first encounter—what happens next is a travesty.
Megan is Missing is most known for the film’s finale, a fifteen-minute scene captured from a fixed camera location as one continuous shot. Director Michael Goi is to be commended for filming what amounts to a very risky scene, the success of which relies entirely on the viewer’s full and unwavering emotional vestment in the character of Amy. While fans of Megan is Missing often cite the tension-filled and emotionally draining final scene as the defining moment in the film, the scene would not succeed without director Michael Goi’s strong character development of Megan and Amy.