A Mother's Search
Lost Girls focuses on a mother’s search to find out what happened to Shannan, her missing daughter whose livelihood involved prostitution. Because of the lack of interest in finding missing sex workers, Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan/Gone Baby Gone) – a single woman with two more daughters at home – begins an investigation of her own. With this goal in mind, she bonds with mothers of other missing daughters. The brave efforts of this group, led by Mari, result in discovery of over a dozen bodies of murdered sex workers buried in close proximity along the South Shore of Long Island, New York.
Sadly, this film is based on true events surrounding the real Long Island Serial Killer case. Directed by Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) from a screenplay by Michael Werwie’s (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) adaptation of Robert Kolker’s book about these killings, Lost Girls is not a documentary. However, the movie includes details that make it feel real.
For example, we can’t help suffering with Mari as she agonizes over not hearing from Shannan when she promised to meet her and her sisters for dinner but didn’t call to explain. And because of Ryan’s splendid performance, we sense her feelings of guilt about the way she handled Shannan’s mental problems as she was growing up. Mari plays videos of a younger Shannan singing “Beautiful Dreamer” over and over again. Gut-wrenching scenes like those evoke our empathy for this grieving mom.
An important message about thinking of victims as “daughters” and “sisters” instead of as “prostitutes” comes across loud and clear here.
Missing daughter worries mother.
Police view her as a bother.
Her daughter is a prostitute.
So most of them don’t give a hoot.
Mother persists, more moms get mad.
Serial killer is the cad
who kills sex workers out of sight.
Will he be caught and dealt with right?
“Lost Girls,” a dark and true movie –
as scary as a film can be.
But this story should've been told
as documentary, pure gold.
My major complaint about Lost Girls relates to its emphasis on dark scenes. I had trouble seeing what was happening on screen too many times because of fuzzy filming. Of course, this is a somber story and dark scenes help project that mood. But overuse can be annoying. Also, I think the scope of this story cries out for a documentary treatment, which Garbus does so well. Interviews with all the mothers involved and follow-up on Mari’s other two daughters (played by Thomasin McKenzie and Oona Laurence) deserve more than a shocking paragraph provided after the film ends.
(Released by Netflix and rated “R” by MPAA.)