‘Lost Girls’ Spotlights Infamous Serial Killing

13 years after her Oscar-nominated performance in “Gone Baby Gone,” Amy Ryan once again lives a mother’s worst nightmare in the Netflix drama “Lost Girls.” Based on a true story, Ryan stars as Mari Gilbert, an overworked single mother whose life is turned upside down when her oldest daughter, 20ish Shannan (Sarah Wisser), goes missing in 2010. Uprooting her two teen daughters, Sherre (Thomasin McKenzie) and Sarra (Oona Laurence), Mari heads to Long Island to search for answers, and her plight leads her into the crosshairs of a possible serial killer.

When we first meet Mari, she is juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet. After coming up short for her bills one month, she calls Shannan, who agrees to spot her some money. Shanna also accepts an invite to dinner at her mother’s, but never shows up. This does not worry Mari at first, but after two days go by without any word from her oldest to herself or either of her younger daughters, she alerts the police. After receiving little assurance from law enforcement, she decides to pay them a visit in person. She also goes to see Alex (Brian Adam DeJesus), who informs Mari of something she didn’t know or just didn’t want to know, which was that Shannan was a sex worker, and on the night she went missing she was seeing a client in the wealthy neighborhood of Oak Park.

The search for Shannan leads the police to uncover the remains of several other missing women, all sex workers. Marie’s frustrations are palpable as she deals with the police force, particularly the rude detective on the case (Dean Winters), and the tired commissioner (Gabriel Byrne), who has already mismanaged other cases and has one foot out the door. Here, we see how little “wayward” women, particularly sex workers, are valued by society. Media reports refer to the missing and murdered women as prostitutes, and while the label is not entirely unwarranted, there seems to be an indication that they are not entirely blameless for what happened to them.

Determined, Mari tracks down Peter Hackett (Reed Birney), a doctor who called her house the day after Shannan went missing. A shady figure who fancies himself the Mayor of Oak Park, he is, or was, in possession of security footage of Shannan on the night she went missing. Shockingly, the police do not seem too concerned about him, and the only local willing to help Mari is Joe (Kevin Corrigan), a man the commissioner writes off as being a conspiracy theorist.

Although Mari is a private kind of woman who doesn’t feel comfortable sharing her feelings, Sherre and Sarra come convince her to attend a vigil for the murdered women with their family members. Interestingly enough, only mothers and sisters attend, including Kim (Lola Kirke), the sister of one of the murdered women. A sex worker herself, she offers some insight into that world, and Mari eventually becomes protective of her. 

“Lost Girls” is only 95 minutes, but there is enough going on that it could have been a limited series. The cast is great, especially Ryan and McKenzie, but there is precious little time to dig deep, particularly into the Gilbert’s family history. Shannan was bipolar, and Mari carries a burden of guilt for how she raised her. Now, Sarra has been diagnosed with a similar condition, and Mari finds herself pulled into different directions. In an emotional moment, McKenzie gives it her all as Sherre reminds her mother that she is still here.

Ultimately, “Lost Girls” leaves the viewer with more questions, as the Long Island serial killer has yet to be identified. The story serves as a sobering reminder of how society fails some of its most vulnerable members.

Lost Girls” opens and begins streaming March 13 in select theaters and on Netflix.