There are many aspects to a case. In the case of Shannan, there is so much that a bunch of movies could be made if the story was to be covered from all the angles. To stuff all of that into one film would not have led it anywhere. We would’ve just had a movie that pokes at too many things at the same time, never quite delivering on any of that.
Michael Werwie, who adapted Robert Kolker’s best-selling non-fiction for the screen, understood this very well, especially considering how deeply the book goes into the investigation of the Long Island serial murders. It follows the story of five girls and had Netflix decided to turn it into a miniseries, bringing all those perspectives to the screen would have worked well. For the film, however, they had a number of limitations, so they turned their complete focus on just one girl, acknowledging the others in passing.
‘Lost Girls’, however, is not even really about Shannan Gilbert, or any other lost girl of Long Island case, for that matter. It is about her mother, Mari Gilbert, who finds herself in a situation that is every parent’s worst nightmare. One minute you are chatting with them on the phone, and in the next, you realise that something horrible has happened to them. What’s worse is that you get no help whatsoever in finding out what exactly happened to your child, and on top of that the cops, who are supposed to protect everyone, are blaming your own child for being in the wrong business.
Lost Girls Plot
Mari Gilbert works two jobs to provide for her daughters. Sherre and Sarra live with her, while her eldest, Shannan, visits them occasionally, sending money home whenever possible. One night, when they are supposed to have dinner together, Shannan doesn’t show up. At first, her family dismisses it, thinking that she might have been caught up at work. But a day later, no response from Shannan, a call from her boyfriend who has never called them before, and a call from a complete stranger who claimed that he was a doctor who helped Shannan are enough to alert her family.
Mari Gilbert files a missing person report, but the cops do nothing about it. Even after the bodies of four girls are found in the same area, the investigation doesn’t really go anywhere. The cops don’t take any interest in digging further or interrogating the people, including the doctor, who live in the area. This forces Mari to take things into her own hands.
Lost Girls Review
Helplessness either makes you surrender to the complacency of the system, accepting that what’s done is done and you can’t do anything about it, much like the family members of the four girls whose bodies are found first. Or, it makes you angry beyond comprehension, which is what we see with Mari. Academy Award-nominated Amy Ryan puts all her wrath and rage into the character and this, in turn, makes us furious too.
“Where’s the outrage? Where is the concern?” she demands of the cops and the residents of Oak Beach, both of whom have remained mute spectators in the whole thing, if not directly sabotaging the investigation itself. She wonders how the possibility of a murderer living amongst them does not scare them or make them ask questions. But in return for this, they ask her, “what are you hiding?”
Instead of focusing on the murders, or pushing into the enquiry of what actually happened to Shannan and the others, the film focuses on a mother’s struggle to keep the investigation alive. It makes us question if justice is not deserved by those who are not “respectable” by the standards of this society. If it is the girls like Shannon for whom Lady Justice wears her blindfold.
If you go looking for a murder mystery, a whodunit sort of story that teases you with here and there details to deduce who the killer could be, if that’s the kind of thrill you seek from it, then ‘Lost Girls’ is probably not for you. Yes, it does have Mari playing detective by herself because the cops wouldn’t do so. She does find a couple of leads, and they do make us hopeful about finding out who the killer is. But that’s not the main concern of the film.
The focus of this arc is to shine a light on the incompetence of the police department, their sheer impotence in even empathising with the families of the victims. It is to ask why exactly it took an hour for them to respond to Shannon’s cries for help while not more than ten minutes passed before they showed up in the same neighbourhood when a complaint about a crazy lady on the street was made. What is the criterion of justice?
‘Lost Girl’ is not a perfect film. It does falter a bit, here and there, and you wish the direction was bit tauter. But what it lacks on these fronts, it makes up with moving performances from its cast. The atmosphere of the film along with the dull palette makes it look like the life is being drained from it. The sprawling shots of Long Island point towards the chilling fact that there are a lot more bodies down there and the one who put them there is still out there. The film aims to scare you and anger you and move you, and to a great extent, it succeeds in that.
Read More: Is Lost Girls Based on a True Story?