|Megan Is Missing|
|Directed by||Michael Goi|
|Produced by||Mark Gragnani|
|Written by||Michael Goi|
Jael Elizabeth Steinmeyer
|Edited by||Michael Goi|
|Distributed by||Anchor Bay Films|
Megan Is Missing is a 2011 American found footage psychological horror film written, directed, edited, and co-produced by Michael Goi. The film revolves around the days leading up to the disappearance of Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn), a popular high school student in North Hollywood who decided to meet up with a boy she was interacting with online, and the subsequent investigation launched by her best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins). Goi based the film on a series of real life cases of child abduction. It was notably endorsed by Marc Klaas, the founder of KlaasKids Foundation.
Originally developed as a low-budget independent feature in 2006, the film was shot for $30-35,000. It did not find distribution until Anchor Bay Films gave it a limited theatrical release in 2011. The film was very controversial upon its release. Marketed as an educational film, Megan Is Missing was banned in New Zealand and has been heavily criticized by critics for its confrontational violence and the oversexualization of the adolescent protagonists. Goi wrote the script in 10 days and shot the film over the course of a week. Because of the graphic content, he requested that the parents of the young cast be on set during filming so that they were fully aware of their involvement in the project.
It is one of the first computer screen films. The film became a pop culture sensation in 2020 after it went viral on the video-sharing social media platform TikTok. Goi later issued public warnings to prospective viewers after many users began calling the film "traumatizing." Entertainment Weekly called it "2011's scariest horror film."
On January 2, 2007, the film introduces Megan Stewart, a popular high school honors student who is well known and liked among her peers. However, she lives a double life — she suffers from a history of child sexual abuse and has become addicted to drugs. While talking to one of her friends via webcam, she is shown to have a dysfunctional home life due to her turbulent relationship with her mother. Amy Herman, her best friend, is an outcast who does not want to fully let go of her childhood. These two, despite their polar opposite personalities, have formed a deep bond based on their personal needs: Megan wants someone to genuinely care for her while Amy wants to be socially accepted.
To celebrate Amy's upcoming 14th birthday, Megan invites her to a rave party she’s attending and starkly defends Amy when a superficial party crowd begins mocking her. That night, Amy becomes intoxicated and is physically assaulted when she refuses to have sex with one of the guys attending the party. She is mortified when she accidentally walks in on Megan performing oral sex on the party’s host. Megan later apologizes for the bad experience. While recording a video diary, she has Megan tell her life story in which she reveals she doesn’t know who her real father is and that her step father is in prison for raping her at 9 years old. She explains to Amy that her hostile relationship with her mother is due to her never forgiving Megan for reporting him to authorities. Amy quickly comforts her before the video ends.
Megan is introduced by her party friend Lexie to Josh, a man who claims to be a 17-year-old skater. He states that his little brother broke his web camera which leaves her unable to see his face. After Josh fails to reveal himself at a party that he claimed to be attending, she becomes angry at him. However, she sympathizes with him when he states that he is shy and was intimidated by her popularity. Amy begins to feel left out and Megan introduces her to him before agreeing to meet in person behind a diner. On January 15, it is revealed that she went missing and authorities begin to assume she simply ran away. Amy begins a concentrated effort to find her friend and talks with Josh online to see if he knows anything about her whereabouts.
This encounter leaves Amy scared due to Josh’s threatening remarks and when she sees security footage of Megan being abducted, she reports him to the police which helps re-spark the investigation. Subsequently, disturbing photographs of Megan being mutilated and tortured while immobilized in a contraption begin to appear on an online fetish forum. Three weeks after her disappearance, Amy visits a personal hiding spot underneath an old bridge where she and Megan used to tell each other secrets and begins to record a video diary with her favorite teddy bear. Right before the video ends, someone is seen about to grab her. It is revealed that Amy had disappeared as well. Investigators find her video camera in a garbage can near her hiding spot.
In unedited footage found on the camera, Josh unlocks a door in a cellar where he has been hiding Amy, in her underwear and chained to the wall. She is subsequently humiliated, having to beg for her teddy bear and being forced to eat food in a dog bowl before she is violently raped. He later returns to apologize, and says he will let her go. He then shows her a large plastic barrel and tells her to get into it so that she will not know where he lives when they leave. After Josh opens up the barrel, Amy runs away screaming as she sees Megan's rotting corpse inside. Josh grabs Amy and forces her into the barrel along with Megan's body before locking it. The final moments of the film depict him digging a large ditch in an unidentifiable forest while Amy pleads desperately with him from within the barrel. Josh pushes the barrel into the hole and fills it up before picking up his flashlight and walking away. During the ending credits, a clip shows Megan and Amy relaxing on a bed together, talking about their plans for the future.
The majority of the cast of Megan Is Missing were inexperienced or first-time actors. This was intentional as Goi wanted the characters to be portrayed by non-recognizable actors in order for the film to have an "air of reality." Quinn, who was a dance and film student, was cast in the eponymous role of Megan Stewart. Quinn had starred in several commercials, industrial videos, and student films prior to filming although this film marked her first professional acting experience. Perkins, who had previously only done background work for television shows and commercials, was cast in the lead role of Amy Herman. This marked her feature film debut. The role of the villain, Josh, was given to Australian actor Waite.
The film was made with a very low budget which is part of the reason the found footage format was utilized. Goi self-financed the film as he believed that investors weren't going to fund the film due to the violent script. Megan Is Missing was shot over the course of a week in 2006 with a small crew of only 5 people and a budget of $35,000. It was filmed with "no motion picture lighting equipment, no grip equipment, no professional sound recording equipment" in order to have a "raw" and realistic feel to it. The vast majority of the cast were adolescents and Goi required that their parents be on set during filming due to the graphic nature of the film.
In October 2011, New Zealand's Office of Film and Literature Classification banned Anchor Bay's release of this film by classifying it as "objectionable". They claimed that it contained sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree, and in such a manner that if it was released it would be 'injurious to the public good'. They went on to say that it relished in the spectacle of one girl's ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene. They also stated that it sexualized the lives of young teenage girls to a "highly exploitative degree".
In a positive review for The Leaf-Chronicle (Tennessee), film critic Jamie Dexter compared the film to the Paranormal Activity franchise and The Blair Witch Project (1999) and praised the storyline, stating "It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do — show this very real and plausible scenario of how internet predators work." In a negative review for the Oklahoma Gazette, Rod Lott mostly criticized the characterization and portrayal of Megan, stating:
Here, the only thing writer/director Michael Goi achieves is making Megan 100 percent repugnant from the start. You don’t care about her because he goes out of his way to present her as the kind of kid who probably deserves a good punch to knock her off her pedestal. Honestly, I was so sick of hearing her speak her petty, self-absorbed yapping, I couldn't wait for her to go missing. This is amateurish trash disguised as an “important” message movie.
He then goes on to condemn the acting from the rest of the cast:
Although fictional, “Megan Is Missing” aims to deliver the currently in-vogue cinema-verite experience, where the entire thing is assembled through supposedly found footage, from camcorders and smartphones to surveillance tapes and newscasts, not to mention one photograph that comes off as a punch line, although that’s clearly not its intent. It doesn’t help that the movie is so poorly acted, it feels like a put-on. When we see a news report on actors re-creating an abduction, the meta mistakenly leaps to self-parody.
Beyond Hollywood and DVD Verdict also panned the film, with Beyond Hollywood calling it "majorly disappointing" and DVD Verdict stating that they "[wished] this disc had been missing from the box". HorrorNews.net gave a more positive review, saying that the first portion of the film "really works", although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes "went a little overboard".
In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on TikTok. This social media platform is where the film has its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” The hashtag for the film has over 83 million views. After being informed by Perkins that the film had gone viral, Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers: "Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words 'photo number one' pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie if you're already kind of freaking out before you start seeing things that maybe you don't want to see." Goi states that he made the film with the purpose of it being a "wake-up call" to parents but instead it is children who discover the film and make it resurface sporadically. The film later began trending on Twitter.
A few years after its release, a production company in Mexico approached Goi to make a Spanish language remake of the film with a Mexican cast. Goi declined the offer as he didn't want to revisit the grim subject matter. However, he states that he has theorized making a sequel but no progress has been made due to there being "no angle" for him to take the story.
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