Lost Girls

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This true-crime drama on Netflix sheds light on the hushed case of Shannan Gilbert and why the police put minimal effort into solving it
Yvonne Jacob

One of the newest movies on Netflix is the dramatic story based on a real crime that shows a mother’s quest to solve the mystery of her missing daughter. Amy Ryan steps into the shoes of Mari Gilbert, who was forced into activism when her daughter Shannan disappeared on Long Island in 2010. The movie brought back the focus on this mysterious case and highlights the plight suffered by the mother. The story, based on journalist Robert Kolker’s book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, dovetails with the notorious Long Island serial killer case. Police believed that the Long Island serial killer had killed between 10 to 16 people over a period of 20 years but the film zeroes in on one of the missing people and how the search for her led to the discovery of four other bodies. The movie speaks of righteous indignation, incompetency of the police in charge of the case and the power of raising your voice for the things that are wrong.

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In the movie, Mari Gilbert is portrayed as a single mother who is struggling to make ends meet while working two jobs to provide for her two daughters. The third and the eldest daughter, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, lives elsewhere and every now and then, Mari asks Shannan for financial help. Where Shannan gets the money from is known to Mari only. When Shannan fails to show up for dinner one day when she had promised to come, the family gets upset and tries contacting her with no response in return. After days pass, it becomes clear that Shannan has gone missing. 

Mari contacts the police and with their help, they uncover morbid evidence — bodies of people who had gone missing long ago, a frantic call made from Shannan and security footage that mysteriously disappears. The investigation proceeds solely because of Mari’s persistence as she continues to hound policemen who lose interest in the case as soon as they find out that Shannan and the other women were sex workers. Probing further into her daughter’s case, Mari finds out that the police took a full hour to respond to a frantic 911 call made by Shannan screaming “They’re trying to kill me,” amidst panic, confusion and voices overlapping in the background trying to calm her down. Emergency dispatchers struggled to determine Shannan’s exact location over the 23-minute-long phone call that suddenly cut out.

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The odds are stacked against Mari because the police and public don’t really take her seriously because she was a woman who belonged to a poor background, and mainly because her daughter was involved in a profession that was stigmatised by the society. The daughters continue to be hopeful about Shannan coming back home in good health and Mari tirelessly tries to get to the bottom of her daughter’s case with minimum help from the police. The challenge arises when the police eventually stop looking for Shannan and focus on other “important” cases. Amy Ryan who plays Mari brilliantly walks the line between an emotional mother who just wants her daughter back and a woman who isn’t afraid to raise her voice and get people in line for justice to prevail.

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Most stories involving murders often revolve around the concept of how a case is solved. Who committed the crime? What actually happened? Lost Girls chases these questions but with a different conclusion in mind. The movie has a compelling point to make and successfully traps you with its murky ensemble, bringing you face to face with the reality about how people are often dismissed by those they reach out to for help. Apart from being a really interesting case that is surrounded with gruesome events, Lost Girls is a great new true-crime drama to watch while you’re at home.