Lost Girls (2020)

I was very reluctant when Netflix's latest original, Lost Girls, popped up on my homepage last Friday. I, however, was very intrigued by its cast — specifically Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie — and, after a brief survey on Twitter, I decided to give it a chance. And I'm glad I did as it turned out to be an absorbing and intriguing, although by the numbers, true-crime drama.

Liz Garbus's film follows Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan), a mother of three daughters — Shannan (Sarah Wisser), Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie), and Sarra (Oona Laurence) — who works two jobs to take care of her two younger daughters, Sherre and Sarra, who still live at home. 

When Shannan doesn't show up for dinner one night, Mari figures that she just had better things to do and just couldn't bother to let her know. The next morning she gets a strange call from a person claiming to be a doctor who helped Shannan but she ends it as she believes it to be a crank call. But when her calls keep going straight to Shannan's voicemail she realises something bad may have happened to Shannan. 

Turns out nobody has heard from her since the previous night, when her driver (James Hiroyuki Liao) failed to bring her home to her pimp boyfriend Alex (Brian Adam DeJesus) after a job in a Long Island gated community. Mari seeks the help of the law enforcement but the police are dismissive of the case because Shannan was a prostitute and she is just missing. 

When a police officer accidentally finds a burial ground in the area when Shannan was last seen, Mari starts fighting to find what happened to her daughter.

Despite the title, Lost Girls isn't really about Shannan Gilbert or any other of the lost girls, but it's actually about Shannan's mother, Mari, a woman who finds herself in the worst nightmare a parent can live. The film indeed focuses a mother struggling to keep the investigation alive and, especially on her struggling with guilt over putting Shannan into foster care when she was a child and doing nothing to help her when she turned into a woman — she knew Shannan was a prostitute but did nothing about it other than keeping it a secret from her other two daughters. Mari is not the stereotypical grieving mother who attempts to cope with the possibility of loss, which is why she makes for a worthy opponent for the Long Island PD as well as a compelling character. The reason why the focus on Mari works is Amy Ryan's strong performance, the film's driving force, as she shines as the relentless mother deeply frustrated by the police's inadequacies.

Lost Girls is by no means a perfect film though. While it nails the mother, it falls short on the other characters — from Mari's daughters, Sherre and especially Sarra, to the police officers, a victim-shaming detective (Dean Winters) and a calm but weary commissioner (Gabriel Byrne) — as they don't have a lot of depth and aren't particularly compelling, and the subplots, especially the clichéd one involving Lola Kirke's character. As for the ending, it is quite powerful but it makes you wonder why the film didn't focus more on those relationships.

While the writing is a bit lacklustre — it shouldn't come as a surprise since the screenplay was written by Michael Werwie who also wrote Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile — Garbus did a pretty good job directing. There are some pacing issues as at times the film is too slow and others too rushed, but she gets more than solid performances from the cast — not only from Ryan who really has the chance to shine but from Thomasin McKenzie too who, despite the poor material she had to work with, gives a strong and emotionally charged performance —, and she delivers a dark tone, enhanced by the beautiful cinematography, that fits the story well.

Ultimately, Lost Girls is another true-crime film, one that would have worked better as a mini-series, preferably of the non-fiction kind, but the strong performances and direction make it stand out from the crowd.


  1. I just dropped this in my Netflix queue based on your review, I'm glad that it's good enough. Since we're all in doors for the foreseeable future I need as much to watch as I can. lol

  2. It's a pretty gritty film and often quite harrowing. Still I landed on the same score as you. Wasn't quite as sold on the police procedural part.