“Missing” does something truly clever with its ending, revealing that all of the film’s more sensationalist aspects — including body doubles, con men, shady lawyers, and fake names — led to a devastatingly common situation. In the end, it wasn’t some complex international conspiracy that led to Grace’s disappearance, but an everyday case of domestic abuse. James was a dangerous person, and it turns out that all of Grace’s secrets and overprotective tendencies came from her wish to protect her daughter both from her father and from his harmful legacy.
The movie’s choice to end with a simple explanation where a fantastical one initially seemed likely feels timely. It speaks to the current conspiracy-minded nature of the U.S., in which TikTok true crime fans warn of human traffickers who will steal you away if your car has a bumper sticker, and QAnon followers are convinced that furniture companies are selling children. Realistically, these movements are plagued with misinformation, including a misunderstanding of basic statistics surrounding trafficking, kidnapping, and abuse. While it’s compelling to believe that there are countless shadowy strangers out there with unlimited resources waiting to snatch our kids, the fact remains that, according to a 2017 study, 90% of kidnappings are actually done by a parent of the taken child.
“Missing” isn’t explicitly about misinformation; June is a great researcher, and comes to conclusions that make sense within the limits of the information she has. But that’s also true of people who fall into the web of conspiracy theories, and there’s a reason for it. It’s easier to think fantastically and imagine cinematic scenarios than it is to process pain that hits close to home. In the end, the culprit wasn’t a crime syndicate or mastermind con artist, but June’s own dad.