‘Lost Girls’ is inspired by the true story of the still unidentified Long Island serial killer. Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan – ‘The Office’) works in construction and as a waitress to keep her family afloat. One night, the eldest of her three daughters, Shannan, goes missing. Mari hears reports that Shannan was working as a prostitute and abusing drugs at the time of her disappearance. But the distressed and frustrated mother knows there is more to the story. She presses the authorities, particularly Commissioner Richard Dorman (Gabriel Byrne) to increase their efforts. During the investigation, the police come across the bodies of a number of young female sex workers on the South Shore barrier islands of Long Island.
‘Lost Girls’ is based on the fascinating true story of Mari Gilbert, which was adapted into a New York Times bestseller which is the source of this adaptation. Fascinatingly, the case was a recent one, as Shannan (aged 24) disappeared only in May 2010. There’s more still to Mari’s life story and relationship with her daughters, but it is sadly only touched on in a subtitle during the credits.
The Netflix movie is for this reason and more, uneven and a bit disappointing as it has such strong material at its heart. Amy Ryan, on the bright side, is an unstoppable force as Mari, delivering a heart-rending, passionate, inspiring performance. Gabriel Byrne’s turn as the worn out cop is fine, generally underdeveloped; it’s also interesting to see ‘Jojo Rabbit’ actress Thomasin McKenzie continue to prove herself as a young talent to watch. The second young actress, Oona Laurence (‘Bad Moms’), who plays Mari’s third daughter, also impresses.
The unhelpfulness of the police is emphasised over and over; you really feel like Mari will never get to the bottom of what happened. Thus a sense of despair is the overwhelming emotion one feels during the movie. Still, the fact that Shannan’s disappearance leads to a bigger discovery really hooks one in. It’s just a shame the execution of the plot isn’t as intriguing as the premise.
Mari starts to form a community with other moms and women. But again, this aspect of the film wasn’t explored in all that great depth. It’s a taut watch, one can give it that, as its duration is just over 90 minutes. Ryan gives a great lead performance, and it is a moving movie. You just know it could have been better.