In the mournful and haunting Lost Girls, it’s more than a little disconcerting and a bit ironic that Dean Winters, the actor who is Mayhem in those Allstate Insurance TV ads, plays a member of the police force that is investigating the real-life murders of a dozen or more women whose remains were found along the South Shore of Long Island, New York. The victims were mostly sex workers and the so-called Long Island serial killer has never been found.
When 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert, who worked as an escort, went missing in 2010 after she was heard on a 911 call running away from an attacker while in a gated community, the police did little to nothing about trying to find her whereabouts – as if a person like her wasn’t worth the trouble.
But the cops didn’t anticipate that Shannan’s blue-collar New Jersey mother, Mari (Amy Ryan, who goes all in on foul-mouthed, bad-ass mother mode), was not going to let them off the hook when it came to discovering what happened to her daughter and the four other young women whose remains were found by accident by a dog. Her main punching bag, however, is Gabriel Byrne’s police commissioner, whose public record as a crime fighter is already compromised before his men took an hour to get to where Shannan had been attacked that night.
Filmmaker Liz Garbus, known for her docs The Fourth Estate and What Happened, Miss Simone?, attempts to present Netflix’s Lost Girls as a harrowing crime procedural — something that Unbelievable, the multi-part Netflix series about a serial rapist, did better. But the heart of the film is the connection forged by the survivors – sorrowful sisters and guilt-ridden mothers – who bond over the similar fates of their daughters. Ryan is the hard-bitten engine driving this charge against simply shrugging off the disappearance of women, prostitutes or not. But the most soulful performance is given by Thomasin McKenzie as Mari’s middle daughter (Jojo Rabbit), who supports her crusading mom even though her own needs are pushed aside.