Lost Girls is Netflix’s latest look into true crime. Usually, we see harrowing docuseries that are talked about for weeks to come, but Lost Girls is a fictional take on a true story. This is not the only difference between Lost Girls and the other true crime tales Netflix has in its catalogue. As per always, it’s bleak and honest, but usually, we see these stories given a lot more justice than Lost Girls did.
Based on a true story, Lost Girls follows Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) as she wades out into the murky waters of crime in a search for her missing daughter, Shannan (Sarah Wisser). Shannan, a sex worker, has disappeared and it’s Gilbert’s insistence on looking for her that uncovers something much more sinister at play. Four corpses are uncovered and it’s quickly clear that the slowly-growing number of unsolved murders of young female sex workers can be attributed to the Long Island serial killer.
The film itself is rather barren. Visually, it refuses to do anything interesting, mimicking the familiar blue-green colour palette seen in plenty of shows and films about dark subject matter before it. There is never anything interesting to look at on screen; no unique framing or visual motifs, as though no thought was put into it at all. The story is rather lifeless, with only the acting chops of Amy Ryan and Thomasin McKenzie (as Shannan’s sister Sherre) keeping the film afloat. Unfortunately, their acting skills do very little to elevate the story when there is little of interest in the story to begin with. Scenes float by with no lingering emotions to follow them, cold and forgotten in the end.
Despite the wispy take on heavy content, Lost Girls, thankfully, refuses to make a spectacle of the tragedy. This is not a film that lingers on disgusting details of the crime, it refuses to shock and pander to those hoping for horror. For most of the film, we do not see corpses nor hear anything gruesome about what may have happened to them. Shannan herself is a sweet smile on a missing poster, a little girl singing in a talent show that her mom frequently rewatches; remembered as she was. The respect that Lost Girls shows the victims is, for the most part, commendable. Lost Girls ensures that this is not a film in which victims are exploited but, rather, fondly remembered.
Without giving too much away, this falls apart when it builds into a nonsensical ending that is unrealistic when compared to the grit within the rest of the film. Lost Girls refuses to hold on to the respect it clung so tightly to, completely forgetting it, for the sake of a final shot that does not have any place within the context of the film.
Lost Girls had a lot going for it at a first glance: a take on a powerful true story played out by a fantastic leading cast. In the end, it falls flat, a disappointment of a watch. It handles its subject matter with sensitivity and grace, at the very least, but does little to keep the audience actually invested in their stories.