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Liz Garbus and screenwriter Michael Werwie focus their film on single mother Mari (Amy Ryan, seen here) and her fight to seek the truth about, and then justice for, her daughter, a sex worker who goes missing near a gated Long Island community.

Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix

  • Lost Girls
  • Directed by Liz Garbus
  • Written by Michael Werwie, based on the book by Robert Kolker
  • Starring Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie and Gabriel Byrne
  • Classification R; 95 minutes

rating

3 out of 4 stars

How do you make a docudrama based on a real-life mystery that has yet to be solved?

Not to immediately wade into spoiler territory, but that was the challenge facing director Liz Garbus as she set out to produce Lost Girls, a new film based on the investigation into the murders of more than a dozen young women in Long Island – a case that has yet to yield any convictions, or even arrests. Her background in documentary cinema helped – as the director of such acclaimed docs as The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Bobby Fischer Against the World and A Dangerous Son, Garbus is already well-versed in the complicated art of using mere selected slices of history to construct a fully formed story. Just as it is possible to make a compelling doc without telling an entire life’s story end to end, Lost Girls proves that you can make a substantial thriller that doesn’t rely on a comforting real-world conclusion.

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New movies this weekend, including spare and powerful First Cow, heartbreaking Red Snow and Netflix thriller Lost Girls

Using journalist Robert Kolker’s remarkably detailed and thoroughly depressing 2013 book Lost Girls as the story’s spine, Garbus and screenwriter Michael Werwie focus their film on single mother Mari (Amy Ryan) and her fight to seek the truth about, and then justice for, her daughter, a sex worker who goes missing near a gated Long Island community. Soon, Mari finds common cause with other mothers and sisters who lost young women in the same area – and have encountered either indifference or incompetence when dealing with the authorities.

Lost Girls shows how Garbus is already well-versed in the complicated art of using mere selected slices of history to construct a fully formed story.

Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix

Filming in and around Long Island, Garbus and her cinematographer Igor Martinovic shoot Mari’s world as one unceasing nightmare, a land of dark colours, dank bars and decaying nature. It is an effective approach, although the style’s overwhelming levels of grit and grime threaten to drown out, rather than amplify, Lost Girls’ strong cast – not only Ryan, who is beginning to build a niche of hard-luck, thick-skinned mothers thanks to this and Gone Baby Gone, but also Thomasin McKenzie as one of Mari’s younger daughters, and Gabriel Byrne, playing a sympathetic but ineffective detective.

Ultimately, Lost Girls is a story about women being thwarted from achieving the catharsis they need, and deserve. It is a story without a happy ending, or even an ending at all. But Garbus isn’t so naive or precious a storyteller to expect reality to afford one – and she should be applauded for not waiting around in vain.

Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix

Lost Girls is available to stream on Netflix starting March 13

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