Review: ‘Lost Girls,’ too much for a movie

Justin Lynch

“Lost Girls” is a Netflix original movie directed by Academy Award-nominated director, Liz Garbus. The movie covers the unsolved case of the Long Island serial killer, who murdered people for nearly 20 years, it is also about a mother’s efforts to try and find her lost daughter.

The movie follows Mari Gilbert, played by Amy Ryan, as she tries to find her missing daughter against the odds of unhelpful police. Ryan’s performance is full of emotion, showing both anger and sadness throughout the movie quite convincingly.

The tone of the movie is dark, and its darkness is seen in the movie’s production. Very little music is heard in the film. “Lost Girls” instead uses ambient noises to create tension and a dreary feeling throughout its scenes.

A shot inside Mari Gilbert's home with her two daughters. From left, Thomasin McKenzie, Amy Ryan, and Oona Laurence.
A shot from Netflix's "Lost Girls," inside Mari Gilbert's home with her two daughters. From left, Thomasin McKenzie, Amy Ryan, and Oona Laurence. Photo credit: Netflix

The cinematography in the movie communicates the darkness of the story through literal darkness. So dark, in fact, that some parts are hard to see even at max brightness. Very few shots in the movie are bright in any way, with shots in buildings even having minimalistic lighting and little color.

Garbus uses shallow focus in a multitude of shots near the beginning of the movie, showing the character’s lack of understanding of their situation and confusion. Many shots in the movie are wide with a large depth of field, leaving characters almost drowning in a sea of dead space as they try to make sense of what is going on.

“Lost Girls” takes on a wide array of topics such as the corruption of the police, treatment of sex workers and gender roles and much more. So much in fact, that the movie seems to bite off more than it can chew.

A shot of Amy Ryan as Mari Gilbert. A perfect example of Liz Garbus' use of shallow focus.
The Netflix original movie, "Lost Girls," staring Amy Ryan, use of shallow focus that emphasizes the character in thee scene. Photo credit: Netflix

The story of the Long Island serial killer and the Gilbert family has a lot to unpack and is very convoluted. The film tries to cover all of the ends that the story has, but the movie’s efforts to maintain absolute accuracy make some parts less developed than others. Plot threads begin but are not completely embellished by the end of the movie, leaving some loose ends that are not adequately explained and characters that have unexplained motivations.

“Lost Girls” is a movie with adequate cinematography and a minimalistic soundtrack. It covers a wide array of important issues, but such an amount that it takes on more than it is capable of. The story of Gilbert and the case of the Long Island serial killer is just too much to cover in a one hour and 35 minute run time.