Review: ‘Old,’ starring Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff

July 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Thomasin McKenzie, Rufus Sewell, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps and Gael García Bernal in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Old”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed tropical beach location, the horror film “Old” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Several people who are on vacation at a beachside resort are invited to go to a secretive beach on the property, and they find out that this mysterious beach causes rapid aging and is difficult to escape.

Culture Audience: “Old” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan or who don’t mind seeing a horror movie that takes an intriguing concept and squanders it with terrible screenwriting.

Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The only thing that gets really old quickly in “Old” is how this abysmally bad horror movie keeps shoving ludicrous dialogue, dumb plot holes and tiresome characters in viewers’ faces. The story is mainly about vacationers stuck on a sinister beach where everyone ages rapidly. Viewers of this awful dreck will be stuck wondering how much worse “Old” can get, as it continues a pile-on of inconsistent and ill-conceived science fiction.

Many of the movie’s characters are as unappealing as the disgusting giant tumor that makes an appearance at one point in the movie. (You’ve been warned.) “Old” (written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan) is the type of dreadful movie where a 6-year-old boy experiences the trauma of swimming in a beach area when a floating dead body of a naked woman crashes into him, but his parents react as if the kid should eventually forget about this decomposing cadaver, just because they covered up the body with a blanket. Meanwhile, just a few minutes after the body is discovered, one of the other kids on the beach who witnessed this horror pipes up, “I’m hungry!”

“Old” is based on the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. And it’s the type of cinematic misfire where you can tell that the book is much better than the movie. Shyamalan has a very mixed track record when it comes to his horror/suspense films because of his frustrating tendency to create convoluted and unnecessary plot holes that lower the quality of the material. “Old” isn’t his worst-ever movie, but it’s not good enough to be considered simply average.

“Old” starts out fairly promising in the part of the movie that doesn’t take place on the ominous beach. The main protagonists are a family of four vacationing at a beach resort called Anamika Resort in an unnamed tropical location. (“Old” was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic.) Once the movie switches to the “beach that causes rapid aging” scenes, the story quickly goes downhill from there.

Insurance actuary Guy Capa (played by Gael García Bernal), his museum curator wife Prisca Capa (played by Vicky Krieps) and their two children—11-year-old daughter Maddox (played by Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (played by Nolan River)—are a family from Philadelphia who are on vacation. They’ve arrived by a shuttle van to Anamika Resort, which seems to cater to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele. The family is warmly greeted by the resort’s staff, including the unnamed resort manager (played by Gustaf Hammarsten) and his perky assistant named Madrid (played by Francesca Eastwood), who promptly offers the adults some cocktails. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that there’s more to those cocktails than meets the eye.

The family seems very happy with the resort so far. Prisca (pronounced “priss-kah”) marvels at the beauty of the resort and says, “Can you believe I found this place online?” The four family members quickly get settled into their suite and spend some time outside in the resort’s beach/activities area. Trent is an inquisitive and friendly motormouth, while Maddox is quieter and more reserved. The siblings get along with each other very well. The same can’t be said for their parents.

Guy and Prisca have two big secrets that they want to keep from their children while they’re on this three-day vacation. The first big secret is that Guy and Prisca are going to separate. It’s revealed later in the movie why they’ve been having marital problems. The other big secret is that Prisca has been recently diagnosed with a serious medical illness.

Prisca and Guy plan to tell the kids about the separation after their vacation ends. Prisca is more hestitant about when to tell the children about her big health problem. There are hints of why Prisca and Guy have been clashing when they start arguing about when they should tell the children about Prisca’s medical diagnosis.

Prisca shouts at Guy, “You’re always thinking about the future!” Guy yells back at Prisca, “You’re always thinking about the past!” Meanwhile, a sad-looking Trent and Maddox are seen in the next room, overhearing their parents’ argument. It’s a sign that the kids know more about what’s going on in this marriage than the parents think the children know.

At the resort, Trent has made fast friends with another precocious and extroverted boy who’s about the same age. His name is Idlib (played by Kailen Jude), and he says the resort manager is his uncle. Idlib lives at the resort, and there’s no mention of his biological parents. Viewers will have to assume that Idlib’s uncle is Idlib’s legal guardian, because the uncle seems to be the only parental-like authority in Idlib’s life.

Trent and Idlib find out that they both have an interest in deciphering coded language. Idlib and Trent also like going up to random vacationers at the resort and asking them their names and what they do for a living, in order to strike up friendly conversations with them. Trent doesn’t go too far away from his parents or Maddox, so that Trent is always within view of his family members.

At the resort’s main beach, Trent and Idlib meet three adults who are sitting together on lounge chairs. One of them is an American cop named Greg Mitchell (played by Daniel Ison), and he’s with his dancer wife and their British female friend who’s a chef. The only purpose of this scene is so that viewers will know there’s an off-duty cop on the premises.

Meanwhile, at the resort’s main beach area, viewers see another family of vacationers who will be a big part of the story. Charles (played by Rufus Sewell) is an arrogant cardiothoracic surgeon/chief medical officer. He’s at the resort with his vain, much-younger trophy wife Chrystal (played by Abbey Lee); their 6-year-old daughter Kara (played by Kylie Begley); and Charles’ mother Agnes (played by Kathleen Chalfant), who doesn’t show much of a personality in this movie.

While having lunch at an outdoor cafe near the beach, Chrystal lectures Kara about sitting up straight in her chair. Chrystal tells Kara that if she doesn’t practice good posture, she’ll be a hunchback who’ll be unattractive to men. Meanwhile, Chrystal somewhat flirts with the waiter serving them, even though the waiter looks like he’s barely out of high school. This scene is relevant to what happens later in the story.

It doesn’t take long for some drama to start on the beach. A vacationer at the resort named Patricia (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has an epileptic seizure, in full view of the two families. Patricia’s attentive husband Jarin (played by Ken Leung), who identifies himself as a nurse, rushes to her side to help. Charles also goes over to Patricia to see if he can assist and announces that he’s a doctor. To everyone’s relief, Patricia ‘s seizure ends before she gets hurt.

Shortly after this incident, the manager tells the Capa family about a private beach area on the property that only a select number of resorts guests are invited to visit. He calls this beach a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” and a “natural anomaly.” The resort manager adds, “I only recommend it to certain people.” Guy and Prisca are curious and excited about this private beach, so they immediately say yes to this invitation.

The unnamed van driver who takes them to this private beach is portrayed by “Old” writer/director Shyamalan, who always casts an acting role for himself in his movies. (He’s a mediocre actor.) In addition to Guy, Prisca, Maddox and Trent, the other passengers in the van are Charles, Chrystal, Kara and Agnes.

The van driver has given them several baskets filled with free food for this trip. Charles says it’s unnecessary to take all this food with them to the beach, but the driver insists on it because he says that the kids will get hungry. When Charles asks the driver for help in carrying all these baskets of food to the beach, the driver says he can’t because he has to leave to go somewhere else that he’s needed for work.

When the two families arrive at this mystery beach, they see an African American man (played by Aaron Pierre), who’s in his late 20s, sitting by himself near the cliffs that surround the beach. He seems to be in a daze or in some kind of trance. Two of the new arrivals to the beach have very different reactions to this mystery man.

Maddox immediately recognizes him as a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan. Not surprisingly, the adults have no idea who Mid-Sized Sedan is. Maddox is star-struck and wants to go over to Mid-Sized Sedan to meet him, but her father Guy says not to bother this celebrity who’s on vacation. Maddox is disappointed, but she follows her father’s request to respect Mid-Sized Sedan’s privacy.

Meanwhile, Charles suspiciously looks at this tall and athletic-looking African American man and immediately wants himself and his family to stay far away from this stranger. Mid-Sized Sedan eventually reveals his real name and family background, and it’s not what some people might expect to hear. Even though there’s no racist name-calling in this movie, there are several moments in the film where it’s obvious that Charles is prejudiced against black men.

When things go wrong, Charles immediately accuses Mid-Sized Sedan of being the perpetrator, and he ignores Mid-Sized Sedan’s protests of being innocent. And the animosity gets violent. Therefore, viewers who are triggered by Black Lives Matter issues might be triggered by some of the scenes in this movie. However, the way these issues are depicted in the movie just seems like Shyamalan’s cynical way of pandering to these issues.

Shyamalan isn’t subtle at all about the racial issues in this movie. Observant viewers will notice that the entire time that Mid-Sized Sedan is on the beach, he doesn’t age. It has something to do with the nose bleeds he has. Those nose bleeds eventually are explained in the movie. But the other reason why Mid-Sized Sedan doesn’t age is so that he can keep looking like the young, athletic black man who is treated like a dangerous threat by Charles.

Not long after the two families arrive on the beach, they are joined by married couple Patricia and Jarin, who say that they were invited to the beach and dropped off in the same manner as the other guests. Patricia is a psychologist, so she tries to uses a lot of therapy techniques when things start to go bonkers on this beach. Jarin tries to figure out scientific/medical ways to get out of their predicament. Jarin and Patricia are this trapped group’s only adults who attempt to use logic to try to escape.

Did we mention that there’s no cell phone reception? And when people on this beach try to leave, something bad happens, such as they feel a pounding pressure on their head, they pass out, and wake up on the beach again. And you can guess that happens if anyone tries to climb over those cliffs that surround the beach.

What the movie doesn’t explain (it’s one of many plot holes) is how this resort can deliberately trap guests on this beach without regard to the probability that these guests told other people that they were vacationing at this resort. There’s an offhand mention in the beginning of the movie about how Anamika Resort tells guests, soon after they arrive at the resort, to hand over their passports to the resort for “safekeeping.” That should be a big warning sign to guests, because no legitimate resort would do that, and no traveler with common sense would willingly let strangers keep the traveler’s passport.

But the passport confiscation doesn’t address another major issue: Eventually, the missing people would have others looking for them, and the resort would come under scrutiny for these disappearances. That reality is ignored because the “Old” filmmakers expect viewers to be as dumb as this movie.

It doesn’t take long for the visitors on this private beach to figure out that something else is very wrong with this beach: For every 30 minutes that they’re on the beach, the people age one year. Lots of panic, horribly written dialogue and unrealistic signs of aging then ensue.

However, a realistic moment of comedy happens when Mid-Sized Sedan makes a “black don’t crack” reference to how black people’s skin doesn’t as age as quicky as other people’s skin because of melanin. As the people on the beach panic over the horror that they’re aging rapidly, Mid-Sized Sedan gives a knowing look to Patricia (the other African American on the beach) and says: “It’s the first time they wish they were black.” Patricia replies in agreement: “Mmm-hmm.”

The actors who are adults when they get to the beach are played by the same actors as they age. But even though their faces show wrinkles over time (except for Mid-Sized Sedan, who doesn’t age), this movie is so sloppily made that the aging adults don’t get gray or white hair when the characters reach the ages when they should have gray or white hair. Keep in mind that there’s no hair dye on this beach.

The children are portrayed by different actors as these characters age. Maddox is shown at as a teen/young adult, starting from age 16 (played by Thomasin McKenzie), and as a middle-aged adult (played by Embeth Davidtz). Trent is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Luca Faustino Rodriguez); as a teen/young adult, starting from age 15 (played by Alex Wolff); and as a middle-aged adult (played by Emun Elliott). Kara is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Mikaya Fisher) and as a 15-year-old (played by Eliza Scanlen). Trent and Kara have a quickie teen romance where something happens that will make viewers have divisive reactions.

Some of the actors seem to be cringing inside at the clumsy and stilted dialogue they have to say in this movie. Most of the cast members seem emotionally detached from their characters and just recite their frequently awful lines of dialogue, while others over-emote. It’s an awkward mix.

McKenzie is the only cast member who seems committed to realistically depicting her character’s feelings of confusion and angst over how rapidly her body is changing. It’s in subtle ways, such as her body language when Maddox covers up her breasts while wearing a bikini, because she hasn’t gotten used to having a body that’s reached puberty. While on the beach, all of the characters in “Old” who are parents make horrible decisions that make the parents look very irresponsible.

One of the biggest flaws in “Old” is that it does not adequately address how the children mature mentally and emotionally. When Trent’s body ages to 11 years old, the movie makes a point of saying that mentally, he’s still 6 years old. But then later in the movie, based on dialogue and actions, the children’s mental and emotional developments are supposed to match the ages of their bodies. There’s no explanation for this inconsistency.

When 11-year-old Maddox’s body turns into a 15-year-old’s body, her parents have a horrified reaction when they see her for the first time as a 15-year-old. Maddox is confused over why they’re reacting in this way. It’s because the movie wants viewers to believe that Maddox isn’t supposed to know right away that her body has changed.

However, Maddox wouldn’t need a mirror to see the changes to her body. All she would need to do is look down to see that grew breasts. And she would also sense that she got taller. But no, this movie wants viewers to forget all that common-sense logic and just accept whatever crappy plot fail is being thrown at them.

“Old” has some dubious merits of being so bad that it’s almost funny. There’s a subplot of Charles starting to go crazy on the beach. He starts rambling about random things, and the way his wild-eyed madness is depicted in the movie is unintentionally laughable because the acting is so over-the-top dreadful.

For example, Charles starts fixating on asking people to name the movie starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Viewers won’t get the answer to the question while watching “Old.” But the name of the movie starring Brando and Nicholson is the 1976 Western drama “The Missouri Breaks.” It’s the only film that Nicholson and Brando ever did together. What does “The Missouri Breaks” have to do with “Old”? Absolutely nothing. It’s just one of many nonsensical things dropped into “Old.”

Throughout the movie, there are signs that these unlucky vacationers are being watched while they’re on the beach from hell. Therefore, when it’s revealed what’s going on and why they were chosen, it isn’t surprising at all. It’s downright anti-climactic and edited in a haphazard way. The big “reveal” at the end of “Old” is an idea that’s very similar to the reveal of another Shyamalan clunker movie, which won’t be named here because that would give away the ending of “Old.” You know a movie is bad when it rips off another unsurprising plot twist from another horrible movie that the same writer/director made years ago.

“Old” is also one of those movies that looks like it could’ve had three different endings, with none of them particularly inventive or unpredictable. Writer/director Shyamalan decided to cram all these ideas in the movie just to try to make “Old” look more clever than it really is. However the film ends, viewers should be glad when this monotonous mess of a movie is finally over.

Universal Pictures released “Old” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘Lost Girls,’ starring Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Lola Kirke and Gabriel Byrne

January 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oona Laurence, Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie and Miriam Shor in “Lost Girls” (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix)

“Lost Girls”

Directed by Liz Garbus

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in New York state and partially in New Jersey, the dramatic film “Lost Girls” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class in depicting the real-life people involved in the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) murder mystery.

Culture Clash: Mari Gilbert, whose murdered daughter Shannan is believed to be a LISK victim, fights for justice with her daughters and family members of other LISK murder victims, who believe that law enforcement isn’t properly investigating these crimes.

Culture Audience: “Lost Girls” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in dramatic portrayals of true crime stories and don’t mind if some scenes in the movie are unrealistic.

Thomasin McKenzie, Amy Ryan and Oona Laurence in “Lost Girls” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The ongoing investigations into the unsolved murders of at least 16 people who are believed to have been victims of the Long Island Serial Killer (also known as LISK, the Gilgo Beach Killer or the Craigslist Ripper) are too complex to condense into a scripted movie. Almost all of the murder victims were women who worked as prostitutes, they advertised themselves on Craigslist, and their bodies were found on New York state’s Long Island from the 1990s to the 2010s. Instead of telling all of these murder victims’ stories, the Netflix dramatic feature film “Lost Girls” focuses on the perspective of one real-life mother whose eldest daughter is believed to be one of the LISK murder victims. As of this writing, no suspects have been arrested in the murders.

Directed by Liz Garbus, “Lost Girls” is a well-acted but ultimately a by-the-numbers and often-melodramatic depiction of Mari Gilbert’s struggle to get justice for her murdered 23-year-old daughter Shannan Gilbert, who disappeared on May 1, 2010, in Oak Beach, New York, shortly after Shannan visited a prostitution client. Shannan’s body was found on December 13, 2011, about half of a mile from where she was last seen in public. Investigators have concluded that she died of strangulation sometime in the after-midnight hours when she disappeared. 

Michael Werwie wrote the “Lost Girls” screenplay as an adaptation of Robert Kolker’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same title. It’s fairly obvious that much of the movie was fabricated for dramatic purposes, particularly in depicting the police investigation and by showing Mari suddenly turning into a supersleuth. People who like the type of “crusading mother” clichés that are often seen in Lifetime movies won’t have as much of a problem with the unrealistic aspects of the “Lost Girls” movie as much as people who might be looking for a grittier and more authentic depiction of what really happens in murder investigations. (And there’s a Lifetime movie about Mari Gilbert called “The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice,” starring Kim Delaney as Mari Gilbert. The movie is set to premiere on Lifetime on February 20, 2021.)

Garbus gives “Lost Girls” solid direction, and the talented cast led by Amy Ryan (who portrays Mari Gilbert) elevates the movie slightly above the type of forgettable crime thrillers that are usually made for basic cable networks. Because “Lost Girls” is based on a true crime story that got a lot of publicity, many people watching this movie already know how it’s going to end. By making Mari the central character of the movie, “Lost Girls” sticks to the same “angry mother looking for justice” formula that’s been seen in many other movies just like it.

However, the real Mari Gilbert was much more controversial in real life than this movie makes her out to be. Airing all of her dirty laundry in this movie wouldn’t make her look as sympathetic as the filmmakers want her to look. For example, there were long-standing allegations that she brought up her daughters in an abusive home, where Mari’s boyfriend at the time was accused of sexually abusing her two middle daughters Sherre and Sarra.

The “Lost Girls” movie leaves out a lot of information about the real-life Mari Gilbert and her family. Mari was a single mother with four daughters, but only three of her daughters are mentioned in the movie: eldest daughter Shannan, second-eldest daughter Sherre and third-eldest daughter Sarra. Mari’s youngest daughter Stevie Smith is not seen nor mentioned in the movie. In real life, Sarra was a teen mother to a son named Hayden at the time of Shannan’s disappearance, but the movie makes it look like Sarra was never a mother. 

Mari’s daughters Sherre and Sarra were teenagers at the time that Shannan disappeared, so they weren’t as involved as Mari was in hounding the police to properly investigate Shannan’s disappearance. Sherre (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is portrayed as stoic and introverted during this family ordeal. Sarra (played by Oona Laurence) is portrayed as a troubled and rebellious child who’s been suspended from school for lighting paper towels on fire in the school’s bathroom. Sarra is also on various medications for her mental health.

At the time of Shannan’s disappearance, the movie shows that Mari was living in Ellenville, New York, and holding down two jobs—a forklift operator and a waitress—making her too busy to have a love life. The father(s) of her children are not seen in the movie, and it’s implied that these biological fathers have no contact with Mari and her children. “Lost Girls” shows that Mari being a working-class single mother and Shannan being a prostitute had a lot to do with how the police investigated the case. Mari thinks she’s being treated like a second-class citizen and she’s very angry about it.

The movie’s depiction of Shannan only comes in snippets. There’s a home video shown a few times portraying Shannan at 8 or 9 years old (played by Austyn Johnson), singing “Beautiful Dreamer” in a talent contest. There are also brief flashbacks of an adult Shannan (played by Sarah Wisser), with her face obscured, depicting the last-known moments before she disappeared.

According to several eyewitness accounts, the last time Shannan was seen alive in public, she was frantically running alone on a neighborhood street after midnight and incoherently begging for help. There was a 23-minute phone call to 911 from Shannan’s phone, but what was heard on the caller’s end was hard to decipher. Concerned citizens called 911 too, but by the time police arrived more than an hour later, Shannan had disappeared. Because the movie doesn’t have any flashback scenes of what the adult Shannan was like except for this moment of trauma, she’s like a mysterious ghost in the story.

The “Lost Girls” filmmakers don’t reveal anything significant about Shannan’s personality. Viewers will just have to speculate or just go by the tiny hints that are shown in the movie. It’s implied from the way that Mari talks about what Shannan used to be like as a child that Shannan was thought of as a “golden child” and the “star” of the family. Shannan had a lot of potential, but she didn’t live up to those expectations. How and why Shannan became a prostitute is never explained, although the movie does mention that Shannan had a much more troubled home life than Mari was willing to talk about publicly.

For years, Mari had a rocky relationship with Shannan. The movie mentions that Shannan hadn’t lived with her mother since Shannan was 12 years old, because Shannan was put in foster care by Mari, who considered Shannan to be an unruly child. Mari giving up custody of Shannan to put Shannan in the foster care system led to Shannan having abandonment issues and a lot of resentment toward her mother.

The movie doesn’t gloss over this information, but puts more emphasis on this narrative: Shannan (who lived in New Jersey) and Mari were still fairly estranged at the time of her disappearance, but mother and daughter were taking steps to mend their relationship. The movie depicts that Shannan was supposed to have dinner with Mari, Sherre and Sarra in Mari’s home on the day that Shannan disappeared. And when Shannan didn’t show up, they didn’t think much of it at first because it wasn’t that unusual for Shannan to skip appointments and not show up when she was expected.

But something odd happened that turned out to be a crucial part of the investigation. On the day that Shannan disappeared, Mari gets a phone call from a stranger who identifies himself as a doctor who runs a home for wayward women. Mari doesn’t know at the time that Shannan was missing and was last seen running frantically and begging for help. In his phone call to Mari, the doctor says that he is looking for Shannan, because Shannan is one of the women he’s been helping, but Mari tells this stranger over the phone that she doesn’t know where Shannan is either. Mari is so distracted that she can’t fully remember the doctor’s name when she’s asked about it later.

As the hours pass and the Gilberts get more concerned about where Shannan is, they find out that Shannan’s live-in boyfriend Alex Diaz (played by Brian Adam DeJesus) hadn’t heard from her either. (Alex had an alibi at the time Shannan disappeared and was never a suspect.) The family began to suspect that Shannan had run into foul play, but they couldn’t file a missing person report until Shannan had been missing for 48 hours. The movie makes it look like Mari and her daughters didn’t find out that Shannan was working as a prostitute until she disappeared and Alex (who was also Shannan’s pimp) told them that Shannan was a prostitute. 

However, Alex expresses skepticism that Mari didn’t at least suspect that Shannan was involved in illegal activities because Mari allegedly demanded that Shannan give her money to help pay Mari’s bills, even though Shannan was supposedly unemployed. When the Gilberts go to where Alex and Shannan lived to question Alex about her disappearance, it’s clear that they blame him for Shannan’s problems. Sherre also makes an angry comment to Alex that indicates that he was physically abusive to Shannan and the family knew it.

Shannan’s prostitution driver Michael Pak (played by James Hiroyuki Liao), who witnessed Shannan frantically running away when she disappeared, also hints that Mari already knew that Shannan was a prostitute before Shannan disappeared and that Mari didn’t care about Shannan being a sex worker, as long as Shannan was giving money to Mari. He comes right out and says that Shannan despised her mother, whom Michael describes in the movie as money-hungry and demanding. Michael (who was also cleared as a suspect) claims that Shannan refused to get in the car and she ran away when he tried to help her during her fateful after-midnight ordeal. He says that he drove around looking for her but eventually gave up and drove away.

“Lost Girls” doesn’t try to make Mari Gilbert look like Mother of the Year, but there’s a definite sense in watching the movie that more could’ve been told about Mari, but this information about her was deliberately left out because the filmmakers didn’t want the audience to feel alienated from the story’s main character. There are predictable scenes of tough-talking Mari storming into police stations and yelling at detectives because she thinks they’re incompetent or not acting fast enough. 

Joe Brewer (played by Matthew F. O’Connor), the prostitution client whom Shannan met with before she disappeared, was quickly cleared as a suspect after he passed a polygraph test. Shannan was last seen far from his house. The eyewitnesses who saw Shannan running down the street and desperately going to people’s houses to beg for their help say that she was too incoherent to describe what was wrong. She gave the impression that someone was after her, although the eyewitnesses say they saw no one chasing after Shannan.

Just like in real life, the movie depicts that the investigation into Shannan’s disappearance led to the discovery of more murder victims who were dumped in the same marshy areas near Long Island’s Ocean Parkway. However, Mari was convinced that Shannan was still alive until Shannan’s remains were found more than a year after she disappeared. Many of the people who saw last Shannan, when she was in a hysterical state of mind, assumed that Shannan was on drugs at the time, but an autopsy later revealed that she had no drugs in her system. 

Much of “Lost Girls” shows either one of two things: (1) Mari feuding with the investigating police (including holding press conferences that are meant to shame them) and (2) Mari doing her own investigations. It’s the movie’s latter depictions that come across as less authentic. Mari goes snooping around people’s front yards, she looks in windows of places where she’s trespassing, and she interviews neighbors and local business owners, as if she’s a middle-aged Nancy Drew.

“Lost Girls” also has a “good cop/bad cop” cliché that’s frequently used in crime dramas. In this case, the “good cop” is Richard Dormer (played by Gabriel Byrne), who’s leading the investigation into Shannan’s disappearance and murder. The “bad cop” is Dean Bostick (played by Dean Winters), one of Richard’s underlings who’s tasked with doing a lot of the legwork. Richard is portrayed as flawed but willing to help Mari, even when she berates and insults him. Dean is portrayed as a mean-spirited and crude sexist who’s not afraid to show it when he’s rudely dismissive of Mari. At one point, Dean says to a co-worker: “Honestly, who spends this much time looking for a hooker?”

During the investigation, Sherre goes on social media to connect with family members of other suspected LISK murder victims. Eventually, some of these family members travel to New York state to pressure the police to do more in the investigation. The family members also hold vigils and participate in press conferences so that the cases can continue to get media attention. Sherre thinks it’s a good idea for the Gilbert family to meet these other family members who are victims’ advocates, but Mari initially refuses because she thinks that Shannan is still missing and isn’t murdered like the other victims.

Mari doesn’t want to be lumped in with the other victims’ families, and she feels somewhat superior to them. “Lost Girls” author Kolker, who interviewed Mari for the book and followed the case closely, says that Mari was like this in real life too. And just like in real life, the movie shows that Mari aligned herself with the other victims’ families only after she decided that it would be an advantage to show strength in numbers, rather than Mari trying to get media attention all by herself. At one point in the story, Mari exclaims: “It’s our job … to make sure these girls are not forgotten!”

“Lost Girls” portrays Mari as being standoffish yet domineering when she first meets some of the murder victims’ family members (who are all women), who have gathered in a diner. They are:

  • Missy (played by Molly Brown), a woman from Connecticut whose sister Maureen was a murder victim.
  • Lorraine (played by Miriam Shor), whose daughter Megan was a murder victim.
  • Lynn (played by Anna Reeder), a woman from Buffalo, New York, whose daughter Melissa was a murder victim.
  • Amanda (played by Grace Capeless), who is Lynn’s daughter and Melissa’s sister.
  • Kim (played by Lola Kirke), an on-again/off-again prostitute from North Carolina whose sister Amber was a murder victim.

It doesn’t take long for Mari to make herself the leader of the group. Gradually, she becomes less aloof and more open to making friends with them. Mari bonds the most with easygoing Lorraine and clashes the most with feisty Kim. Sherre often acts as a peacemaker when Mari gets irritated with other members of the group. At times, Mari acts like she wants to distance herself from the group, but Sherre is usually the one to smooth things over and convince Mari that these other women can be allies. 

The movie depicts Mari as being the chief organizer of the group’s press conferences and the mastermind of staging events, such as having this group of women march through neighborhoods where the murder victims were last seen. It’s a bit of credibility stretch to believe that Mari singlehandedly did all the things in real life that she’s depicted as doing singlehandedly in the movie. However, one of the most authentic aspects of “Lost Girls” is Mari’s emotional ambivalence over who to trust in her quest for justice. It’s not an easy issue for anyone to deal with, especially if it’s compounded by the trauma of looking for a missing child and feeling let down by authorities who are supposed to help.

“Lost Girls” also has a character named Joe Scalise (played by Kevin Corrigan), an Oak Beach neighbor of cleared suspect Joe Brewer. Joe Scalise is portrayed as being the first to tip off Mari that a physician named Dr. Peter Hackett (played by Reed Birney), another Oak Beach resident, should be looked at as a prime suspect. Dr. Hackett is a prominent member of this gated community, but Joe Scalise says that the doctor has a weird fascination with helping prostitutes, whom Dr. Hackett treats as his patients in the doctor’s home office.

Dr. Hackett’s backyard also leads to the marsh where many of the bodies were found. Mari puts two and two together and figures that this is the same mystery doctor who called her on the day that Shannan disappeared. Dr. Hackett denied it, but phone records later proved it.

Through her investigation, Mari also finds out that the doctor’s home office has a surveillance camera outside that would have recorded Shannan on the street the night she disappeared. But when Mari shows up at the office unannounced to interrogate Dr. Hackett, his wife/office manager tells Mari that any video recording from that camera on that night was automatically recorded over. Mari personally confronts Dr. Hackett, who is creepy, smug and evasive. Mari is also infuriated when she finds out the police never even asked for the video surveillance footage.

“Lost Girls” repeatedly portrays Mari as someone who uncovers evidence or tips that the police then express skepticism about or completely ignore. The movie implies in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that one of the main reasons why Shannan’s case remains unsolved is because the police have been unwilling to thoroughly investigate the privileged and influential people of Oak Beach. It’s an age-old issue of criminal justice being different for people who can afford great lawyers and those who can’t.

Mari continues to get tips from Joe Scalise (who seems to be a composite of real-life people), and the more she finds out, the more she’s convinced that Dr. Hackett knows more than he’s telling. When Mari pleads with the police to further investigate Dr. Hackett, she’s told that Joe Scalise is a questionable source since Scalise has been feuding for years with Dr. Hackett and appears to have a personal vendetta against the doctor.

Joe Scalise warns Mari: “The good people of Oak Beach live by one thing: Be wary of those who could ruin a good thing. You are the wayfarer they’ve been dreading.” The movie certainly gives the impression that Mari and the victims’ families are fighting an uphill battle against people who are actively protecting the murderer or murderers.

Because it’s a well-known fact that these murders remained unsolved and no suspects were arrested at the time that “Lost Girls” was made, there’s a feeling of doom while watching the movie that Mari and all of the victims’ loved ones won’t get the justice that they’re seeking by the end of the film. People who watch this movie who never heard of these murders before might be surprised that there’s really no cathartic ending for “Lost Girls.” The Gilbert family also suffered another tragedy that’s not shown in the movie but is mentioned in the movie’s epilogue, which includes details on what people can do if they have information that they think can help solve this real-life mystery of the Long Island murders.

Ryan is a very talented actress who excels in every role that she does, so her performance carries this movie to transcend some of its flaws. McKenzie and Kirke also have some standout moments, with McKenzie’s adept portrayal of Sherre’s quiet heartbreak and Kirke’s memorable portrayal of Kim’s fiery cynicism. Byrne and Winters give adequate portrayals of the two cops who have the most contact with Mari. These types of cops have been seen before in many crime dramas, although Byrne’s Richard Dormer character is written to have more compassion than his police colleagues in this investigation.

“Lost Girls” can get faulty when the movie presents an unrealistic depiction of Mari’s sleuthing and how much access she had in the police investigation. A fairly ludicrous scene in the movie is when police allow her to enter a crime scene while they’re investigating, as if she’s law enforcement too. In real life, that access wouldn’t be given to someone like Mari, and it never happened in real life with Mari, who was very antagonistic to the police.

The movie also doesn’t give any room to consider other possible suspects, since the filmmakers make it look like Peter Hackett was the one whom Mari thought was the most likely to be guilty of the crimes. The real Peter Hackett, who has denied any connection to the murders and was never named by police as a suspect, moved out of Oak Beach in 2016, and he reportedly lives in Florida. There’s a scene in the movie where Mari confronts him again when she finds out he’s moving out of Oak Beach—and it’s a scene that looks “only in a  movie” fake.

“Lost Girls” tends to oversimply many aspects of these complicated Long Island murder cases, but the movie admirably doesn’t lose sight of its intent of trying to get justice for these murders. It’s not a typical murder mystery where the killer or killers get caught and punished in the end. And in that sense, it’s the most harrowing type of true crime story that can be told.

Netflix premiered “Lost Girls” and released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.