“Lost Girls” is a moody, atmospheric but oddly unemotional mystery about exactly what the title implies — “lost girls.”
It’s a “true crime” missing persons police procedural seen almost wholly from the point of view of missing young woman’s mother, given a grounded, grim working class pragmatism by Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone,” “Late Night”).
That’s because the police in this “police procedural” are revealed as disinterested, lazy, uncaring and occasionally lucky. Which is no way to solve a serial killer case.
Mari Gilbert (Ryan) is a single mom working two jobs to keep a nice roof over her teen daughters’ (Thomasin McKenzie of “Leave no Trace,” Oona Laurence of “Big Time Adolescence”) heads, happy on hearing that her third daughter, Sharon, is coming to dinner.
Only Sharon is a no-show. That’s not wholly out of character for the “diva,” and that odd call from a man claiming to be a doctor who says he tried to “help her” is dismissed, out of hand.
“She hasn’t lived here since she was 12,” her mother blurts out.
But Mari, showing just a hint of alarm, gets her back up at every police brush-off when she tries to file a missing persons report. And the Suffolk Co. detective (Dean Winters, “Mr. Mayhem” in those auto insurance commercials) who leaves no doubt that he’s judging “sex worker” Sharon and the mother who didn’t raise her really gets Mari’s goat.
She starts doing the cops’ work for them — grilling the “boyfriend” (pimp), tracking down the “driver” who delivered her to a client in a beachside gated community way down Long Island.
And Mari REALLY gets bent when the word “hooker” pops up, when the embattled police commissioner she leans on (Gabriel Byrne) lectures her about what happens “when girls like this go missing” in the “high risk environment” they’re working in. Sometimes they disappear without a trace.
“Luck” enters the picture when the cops stumble across shallow graves — young women buried. And even though Sharon wasn’t one of them, even though Mari assures her other daughters that “we’re not like them” when other parents of missing sex worker daughters start holding vigils, piling onto the no-answers-yet police in the media, a support group forms, amplifying all their voices.
Ryan makes Mari somebody who has all but choked-off emotions when it comes to Sharon. But her other daughters suffer from this treatment, too. They sense the backstory behind Mom’s double-edged warning — “The choices you make catch up to you.”
The screenplay drifts into docu-drama detail as a disgruntled local (Kevin Corrigan) fills her and us in on what’s “really” going on, and who the leading suspect must be in tony Oak Beach.
Another character, the sister (Lola Kirke) of another victim, is introduced to add details on “the life” to Mari and the story. Kim “got her” sister into prostitution, and knows the ropes and risks.
The emotionally available McKenzie occasionally reminds us of what director Liz Garbus left out of “Lost Girls,” the pathos and heartbreak. This isn’t just a story of a mother looking for answers. She’s looking to atone for whatever guilt she feels about her daughter’s fate, desperate to “bring her home,” lashing out at those who aren’t helping but smothering her grief, and the movie’s, in the process.
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout
Cast: Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Oona Laurence, Lola Kirke, Dean Winters and Gabriel Byrne.
Credits: Directed by Liz Garbus, script by Michael Werwie, based on the Robert Kolker book. A Netflix Original.
Running time: 1:35