Lost Girls is about a real life police case in which a killer lured young women out to a quiet beach town, murdered, and buried them. The story follows Mari Gilbert and her daughters who take it upon themselves to get the police involved in Shannan Gilbert's disappearance despite the dismissiveness about Shannan's life as a sex worker. The film stars Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Gabriel Byrne, Lola Kirke, Oona Laurence, Dean Winters, Molly Brown, Miriam Shor, Ana Reeder, Grace Capeless, Reed Birney, and Kevin Corrigan. It is written by Michael Werwie and directed by Liz Garbus. It is streaming exclusively on Netflix.
I was hesitant to watch this film for two reasons. The first is that with true crime/police procedurals, I often roll my eyes at the obvious tropes, archetypes, and canned dialogue. The second is that stories about serial killers or killings of this type often fetishize or wallow in the act of killing or the killer's psychology, which doesn't interest me for the most part. Yet, Lost Girls focuses on the things that should matter and often get spun out of control.
Lost Girls keeps focus on the women affected and the women who care about the victims. There are several great scenes where the treatment of victims who are sex workers is called into question. I like that focus, that drive to what really matters, that victims, despite what they may do for a living, are humans, with lives and loves and families. Even as the typical things unfold, the police saying, "You never told us about the time..." type of cliches, the script never wavers from the truth of the matter.
I like Michael Werwie's script a lot. He is able to build in layers of information into each scene with multiple people not understanding everything there is to understand. Yet, it never erupts into too much cop/victim melodrama, it focuses the drama on the family where it actually has consequence and not just conjecture on the part of investigators. The script is far less about who did it, mainly because the case remains unsolved, but it never wallows or tries to force tension or detective work. It helps that Liz Garbus is the one directing that action.
Garbus is most notable as a documentarian. She knows how to build a story and she's able to find what's important out of the script. I love that she's able to weave the real life search team footage into the narrative and give it a verite style without compromising on the story of Mari. Mari is like her subject and Garbus is able to deftly stick to that point of view even when Mari isn't in the scene. I even like the cliched scene where Richard is at a party and while the police officers around him cavort with the hired strippers, his gears still turning, his brain realizing that these women could be next, and it so easily cuts to Mari seeing the mobilization of the final search.
The heart of the film is Mari and Amy Ryan is fantastic in the role. Ryan is no stranger to Northeastern crime films, having earned her first Oscar nomination for her work in Gone Baby Gone, but here she's not just sidelined so the detectives can go off and do their work. She grits her teeth and chases after them with a dogged intensity. She keeps them focused on what they should be trying to do, which is to find Shannan. She's ferocious, flawed, and human. The role shows off Ryan's talent and keeps us focused on what really matters.
Lost Girls is a thrilling mystery, but more than that it's a film that gives the narrative power to the victims and their families. The film is able to slide by the tropes and refresh a very tired genre. I highly recommend you take a look if you haven't already (Yes, the movie premiered last month, I'm a little late).