Based on true events, Amy Ryan is the determined mother whose no-nonsense attitude leads police to a shocking chain of discoveries in Lost Girls, an imperfect but nonetheless effective drama courtesy of Netflix.
Set in the South Shore of Long Island in 2010, the film opens with a young woman being pursued at night by an unseen figure. When Mari Gilbert’s estranged daughter Shannan promises to visit, she awaits in anticipation. When she doesn’t turn up though, what to her may be a case of typical letting down appears to be something more concerning. Mari shares her concerns with the authorities, coming across belligerent officers but particularly a more empathetic commissioner approaching retirement (Gabriel Byrne).
Though the investigation struggles to yield any clues to Sharran’s case amid Mari’s insistence that not enough is being done, it takes a horrifying turn when over the course of the film, the bodies of young women are found on various shores who appear to be victims of a serial killer dating back 15 years.
Soon Mari and her daughters become acquainted with a group of the victims’ relatives, including a prostitute whose sister was murdered, as they navigate towards finding what became of Shannan, these unlikely people bought together by unimaginable tragedy.
Looking at the storyline, one could be forgiven for assuming this has a Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri-style narrative, given the similar traits on display of the main character. It is not that kind of film but one can see similarities with Ryan’s lead character;
white, working-class, strong, imperfect, female on a one-woman crusade against the male-dominated authority with a particularly ignorant A-hole of an officer (Dean Winters). Byrne’s much more considerate investigator provides the moral backbone of the department, making for a welcome performance as the man bound to perform his duty based on what has been uncovered but crucially a much-needed figure.
Ryan and Byrne go well together in scenes which demonstrate the strength of Mari’s character, notably during a prickly encounter earlier when she storms to his office doing her own Three Billboards-style protest, stapling posters of Shannan to reflect each day she’s been missing and chastising him for referring to her, innocently, as a prostitute to the media, in full view of his colleagues. Neither character are perfect as highlighted in another scene when both remind the other of their flaws; how Shannan ended up in foster care suggesting neglect from Mari’s part while she retorts with his almost being fired for mismanagement.
The film comes across at times as an attack on the relevant authorities, with the most damning coming when Mari queries on several occasions how it took an hour for the police to arrive at the location where she was last seen but can arrive for other cases. Making light that the bodies of the missing women matching the same profile lay undiscovered after being dumped over so many years has the film looking like a difficult questionnaire for them.
The structure appears unoriginal though with the film guilty, but not fatally, of familiarity; the discoveries, the involvement of possible suspects, interrogations, confrontations, the basis of community, the idea of family. Despite its simplicities, it is a true story that respects the facts and makes no attempt to disguise the cruelties of this world and the tragedies of those affected.
By choosing to make its primary focus on Mari Gilbert, the film is restrained but its expression of power is clear at times, boosted by good casting choices and an appropriate display from the heart.
OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2