Released: 13th March
Seen: 7th April
Between 1996 and 2010, it’s believed that around 16 women who were either sex workers or closely tied to the sex work industry were murdered by someone who is currently only known as the Long Island Serial Killer. The identity of the killer has never been found and the story of how this case became known was so interesting that in 2013 it was turned into the book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker. The book rights were later optioned for a film that went through some cast changes and went from Amazon to Netflix before being released in March where it promptly got ignored because… I don’t know, we were busy anticipating the new season of the Boss Baby series. All I know is that I saw no discussion around this film whatsoever which is odd because it’s genuinely fascinating.
Lost Girls picks up shortly after a woman named Shannan Gilbert goes missing after she was seen running through a small sheltered city. Apparently, Shannan had been screaming for help but no one helped her, including police who took almost an hour to respond to her desperate 911 call. Furious and determined to find her daughter, Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) sets off on a mission to make sure the police do their jobs and find her daughter. If they’re not going to handle the investigation, then she’ll just have to do it herself and, in the process, learn the many flaws in the system that put people in the sex industry at greater risk.
The film is an unflinchingly grim piece of work, so dreary and depressing that it barely even bothers with a score much less any kind of colour palette and it works. The mood is instantly uncomfortable and it’s intentional, you’re never meant to feel comfortable because at any point another body could turn up. It also never really tries to definitively answer who is responsible or even offer a hypothesis because that’s not the part of this story that’s important. What matters for this story is Mari Gilbert’s desperate attempt to get the police to pay attention and actually do their jobs.
Amy Ryan gives an astounding performance as Mari, imbuing her with a strength that’s undeniable from the very first second we lay our eyes on her. It’s never in doubt that she’s going to do whatever is needed to find her daughter and you can see why the cops would have no choice but to fold and give her the help she is bluntly demanding from them. The entire film really relies on Amy’s performance since she’s on-screen for pretty much the entire runtime and she never drops the ball for even a second. Some of the best moments are when Mari is basically daring the police to arrest her, demanding that they look for her daughter or chastising them for being there 12 minutes after one of the locals calls the cops but taking nearly an hour when it was her daughter. She is genuinely incredible and captivating.
Most of the supporting cast is really good, able to help bolster the performance of the lead but there are a few people who are just a little off and it does stand out, though only occasionally. One particular case happens when a bunch of people related to the victims are meeting and someone turns up who is quippy and flashy and it just feels out of place and like a very different kind of performance. There are also just a few performances that just do not seem to get the emotion that the film is going for but luckily they’re secondary to the brilliant lead.
It does feel a little bit like there are some details missing, presumably because we’re so laser focussed on the disappearance of Shannan that the other murders almost feel like they’re afterthoughts. We barely get to even know any of the other victims or their families because we’re focussed on this one story. Granted, Shannan’s disappearance was the catalyst that got people to notice that there was something going on but we never get a chance to know any of the other victims (Of which there were about 15) or their families.
In general, Lost Girls is a film that got lost in the shuffle at Netflix which is a shame because it’s quite a good film, bleak but fascinating with several great performances and a story that more people should know about. It tackled the heavy topic of what some sex workers are put through without sensationalising it, a truly difficult thing to accomplish. Worth a look if you’ve got time (and considering you’re probably on lockdown…. You have the time)