About a month ago, I got The Fourth Kind from Netflix (it was only ok – the best thing about it was Milla Jovovich.) Normally, I would have been irritated by the fact that I wasted an hour and a half on a shitty movie, but there was a trailer for the 2011 film Megan Is Missing prior to the movie and I have to admit that I was intrigued. I’m kind of a sucker for those “found footage” films and both The Fourth Kind and Megan Is Missing are of that genre. Needless to say, I stuck The Fourth Kind out in the mailbox and immediately moved Megan Is Missing up to the top of my Netflix queue.
Megan Is Missing is assembled from “actual” video chats, video camera recordings and webcam footage between 14 year-old best friends Megan Stewart and Amy Herman. Megan and Amy are a bit of an odd pairing because Megan is the “slutty one” and Amy is the “good girl.” As you’d expect, Megan is super popular and Amy is not. Despite these differences, they really are the best of friends. One day, Megan starts video chatting with a guy named “Josh” who is hanging out in on of the chat rooms. He flatters her and talks to her in the just the way she wants to be talked to, and before you know it, she’s heading out to meet him behind the local diner to go out for ice cream.
The next day she doesn’t show up to school. She doesn’t call Amy like she does “every hour” under normal circumstances. Days go by and there’s still no sign of Megan. The possibility that she could be a runaway is floated – her relationship with her mother is awful and her stepfather sexually abused her for two years starting at age 9 before going to prison. Amy isn’t convinced. She knows her best friend would just disappear without telling her. She looks up “Josh” online and asks if he has heard from her, to which he replies she never showed up for their date.
In the meantime, security camera footage of Megan’s abduction surfaces and Amy becomes much more convinced that “Josh” had something to do with her friends disappearance. She goes to the cops. The news splatters her name and face all over the TV. Megan’s friends blame Amy for Megan’s disappearance for reasons that are not clear. Using a new video camera that her father gave her for her birthday, she keeps a video diary to chronicle her feelings and her continued search for Megan. Eventually, Amy disappears as well.
All of this is pretty standard operating procedure for this kind of movie, but I’m here to tell you that nothing NOTHING will prepare you for the last 20 minutes of the film, which are presented “unedited and unaltered” from Amy’s video camera that was found in a public garbage can. As the father of a daughter, it was very hard to watch. Add to this that I’m really not all that big of a fan of the “torture porn” horror films like Hostel and its ilk, and under normal circumstances, I would have turned it off and walked away. But for some reason, I couldn’t. I just had to know what happened. I won’t tell how it ends and if you really want to know, you can spoil yourself like crazy just about anywhere on the Internet, but suffice to say that it involves dingy basements and barrels and some of the most depraved shit you will see in a mainstream film.
I have to admit that my first reaction after watching this film is to never allow my child on the Internet ever again. But that kind of immediate over-reaction reminds me of that scene from Bill Cosby Himself when Bill Cosby’s kids are yelling “WILL YOU STOP TOUCHING ME?!” and he says “No one in this house will ever touch anyone again!” It’s just not realistic. I think that movies like this really ring true for people of our generation because missing children, especially those taken by stranger abduction, became so prominent in the early 80s. Or at least that’s what they want you to believe. Adam Walsh and Etan Patz and, for those of us in Iowa, Johnny Gosch, were all cautionary tales of what can happen if you wander out of your parents’ sight for 2 minutes. I remember being a kid and my sister and our cousin wandering off at Adventureland. They were both just slightly younger than Anna is now at that time and rather than just presume that they were in line for something, which is where they were, I immediately assumed they had both been abducted. Now, that probably speaks more to my own neuroses, but those neuroses don’t magically appear in a vacuum. Even now, I struggle with just how tight or loose my grip on my own child should be. How closely do you hold them so that they are safe but not sheltered? How tightly do you hang on so that you don’t deny them life’s experiences while not deliberately putting them in harm’s way? It’s a tough call most days. And just because you figure out the right balance today doesn’t mean that it’ll be applicable to tomorrow.
Obviously, Megan Is Missing is presenting the worst of the worst case scenarios. You can’t forget that it’s a horror movie that means to scare. But are things like the events depicted in the movie possible? Oh sure. They’re not terribly likely – as is the case with most worst-case scenarios – but I think the best thing to do is arm your kid with as much knowledge as possible. We’ve always had a simple rule when it comes to discussing things like this with our child – if she’s old enough to ask, she’s old enough to get an age appropriate answer. It helps that she’s naturally inquisitive so we’ve already had the drugs and alcohol talk, the sex talk (for the most part), and a lot of other stuff. She’s also super cautious, much like I was. For all the bad things that anxious thoughts can give you, one positive thing about them is that they tend to keep you out of trouble and situations that can land you in trouble. That’s probably why I refer to my formative years as my “non-wayward youth.”
I can’t say that I enjoyed Megan Is Missing as much as I appreciated it and what it was trying to say. A month later, the images from the last 20 minutes of the movie still haunt me.