Director Liz Garbus is no stranger to difficult stories. With a decades-spanning career in documentaries, she has brought a lot of laughter and tears to the big and small screens. It’s not too surprising that her narrative film debut, Lost Girls, is a fictional account of a real-life tragedy.
Amy Ryan stars as Mari Gilbert, a single mother of three girls whose eldest daughter Shannan runs away from home as a pre-teen. Though she builds herself a life away from her mother and siblings, she keeps in regular contact with her family, so when they don’t hear from Shannan for some time, Mari is convinced that something has happened to her eldest daughter and a mother’s search for answers pushes the launch of an investigation that eventually leads to the discovery of multiple homicide victims at the hands of the Long Island serial killer — a unsolved case which is still open today.
Garbus’ film shines a spotlight on so many issues it’s difficult to chose just one. The Gilbert’s were victims of tragedy at every turn: underemployment, lack of social support, preconceptions about sex work, ineffective police work to name just a few. Yet the Gilberts, never backed away from controversy and their efforts led them to become activists for murder victims.
Lost Girls takes the good with the bad, not shying away from the family’s troubles and it all plays into the film’s major strength and appeal, namely Garbus’ ability to capture the desperation and undying determination of a mother looking for answers.