Wednesday 18 November 2020

Movie Review: Lost Girls (2020)

A biographical drama, Lost Girls focuses on familial advocacy for at-risk women operating on society's margins.

In New Jersey, Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) is a single mother raising two daughters, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence). Eldest daughter Shannan, who has left home and is working in the sex trade, promises to visit but fails to show up. Alarmed, Mari contacts her daughter's boyfriend and driver, and learns Shannon visited a Long Island client in the Oak Beach area the night she went missing.

With police Commissioner Richard Dormer (Gabriel Byrne) looking into Shannon's case, a grizzly discovery is made: the bodies of four other sex trade workers are found in the thick bush near Oak Beach, all murdered by strangulation. With Shannon still missing and the police investigation stalled, Mari takes the initiative, raising the case with the media and identifying Oak Beach resident Dr. Peter Hackett (Reed Birney) as a potential suspect.

An adaptation of the Robert Kolker book and inspired by real events, Lost Girls is subtitled An Unsolved American Mystery, as indeed the Long Island Serial Killer has not yet been identified. The absence of a conclusion means director Liz Garbus and writer Michael Werwie are looking at impacts rather than resolutions, and Mari Gilbert as a mother pushed into advocacy takes centre stage.

In an unfortunately familiar story, sex trade workers are treated as less worthy victims, and Lost Girls taps into Mari's rage as she is confronted with the double blow of loss and police apathy. The official investigation is sloppy at best, the gated community of Oak Beach good at keeping outsiders out and secrets in, and Mari has to resort to banging on doors and leaks from community whistleblower Joe Scalise (Kevin Corrigan), who may have ulterior motives.

As a narrative it's not much to go on and Lost Girls runs out of content as quickly as the police lose interest, although Amy Ryan does her best to breathe anguished energy into the role of a working class mom sparring against an uncaring system and emerging as the voice of the voiceless. Thomasin McKenzie contributes a dash of side plot as the daughter breaking out of a shielded reality. Despite noble intentions, Lost Girls is a tragedy consumed by scrubland and the grey lethargy of indifference.

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