Review: Lost Girls

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

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PLOT: A mother (Amy Ryan) desperately pushes police to search for her missing daughter, only to get drawn into the orbit of a long-unsolved series of serial killings, many of which involved sex workers.

REVIEW: LOST GIRLS would have made one heck of an intriguing documentary. Given the twists and turns, the most shocking of which doesn’t even occur during the film, had this been turned into a fact-based doc, it would have likely been a smash. All the ingredients are there, with this being the true story of the Long Island killer aka the Craigslist Ripper, who claimed somewhere between ten to sixteen victims, and who has never been caught.

Too bad then that renowned documentarian Liz Garbus opted instead to make this a feature, and not a procedural feature at that, focusing on the emotional turmoil the driven mother of one of the victims, Shannan Gilbert, when through during the investigation. Mari Gibert’s story is indeed fascinating, but many of the most intriguing twists are left out of the film, leaving the movie a really mixed bag despite a typically strong performance by Amy Ryan in the lead.

Ryan’s one of those MVP character actors that’s seemingly incapable of delivering a bad performance, and elevates everything she’s in. However, she’s not able to completely save LOST GIRLS, which can’t help but be a lot more compelling when investigating the mystery of Shannan’s disappearance, complete with a red herring in the guise of a creepy local doctor played by Broadway vet Reed Birney. But, the movie often gets bogged down by unnecessary subplots, such as one involving a sex worker (Lola Kirke) Mari tries to save, seemingly as a way of atoning for the way she ignored the signs Shannan was involved in the trade.

amy ryan lost girls

LOST GIRLS certainly doesn’t have many positive things to say about the way the cops handled the case, with Dean Winters stereotypically villainous as the a-hole cop who barely tolerates Ryan and her brood (including JOJO RABBIT breakout Thomasin McKenzie as her oldest daughter), although Gabriel Byrne is slightly more sympathetic as the harried chief of police. Garbus’s documentary background comes in handy when depicting the contrast between the working class Mari and the more well-to-do cops and the gated community where Shannan disappeared, again, making me wish this had been more of a procedural and she has an excellent sense of atmosphere.

If LOST GIRLS is worth seeing, it’s for Ryan’s performance, which is compellingly layered. Mari Gilbert isn’t portrayed as a perfect mom, unquestionably taking cash from her daughter without asking where it comes from, and opting to celebrate an idealized version of their relationship early on (playing her talent show videos over and over) rather than acknowledging how fraught it was – at first. She’s fascinating to watch, but again the story of the real-life Mari Gilbert is so fascinating that you’ll wish this had been a documentary instead, especially during Garbus’s wrap-up before the credits, with many stranger than fiction elements left out of the film – although an argument could also be made that she didn’t want to sensationalize the case or shift the focus away from the murders –which remain unsolved. As such, this is occasionally compelling, often frustrating but always well-acted by Ryan, even if the film is a very mixed bag.

Lost Girls



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.