The Long Island serial killer, otherwise known as the Craigslist Ripper, has never been the subject of a feature film as far as I know. Lost Girls is the first, albeit a very different take on the serial killer thriller. Instead of focusing on the killer himself or the long, mercurial investigation surrounding his killing spree, Liz Garbus has crafted a film around the victims and their families. Based on a book of the same name, the nimble if too-simple, truncated drama follows grieving mother Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) as she relentlessly pursues truth and justice amid the disappearance of her oldest daughter, among many other young women. The police are incompetent, the communities are insular, and generally nobody cares about missing women purported to be prostitutes and dug addicts. With her two younger daughters (Thomasin Mackenzie, Oona Laurence) in tow, Mari has an uphill battle to even convince local police to admit there’s a serial killer on the loose.
Ryan is splendid, a combustible freight train of steely resolve and motherly regret, and so is Mackenzie as her now oldest daughter. She’s quickly coming into her own as a young actor who can easily go toe to toe with veterans like Ryan, and toe to toe they go. Mari was a young mother with difficult choices, and her daughters simply want more love, not sordid lessons in parenting. As a police commissioner on the verge of retirement, Gabriel Byrne is a calming presence in the middle of so much anguish, preventing the film from tipping into misery porn. He’s the only cop who gives a damn, but his hands are often tied by interests above his pay grade. Lost Girls skips ahead in time on more than one occasion, lending the film an episodic structure that only exacerbates the feeling that we’re not getting the whole story. It’s a nuts-and-bolts movie with feelings, not a three-hour deep dive a la David Fincher’s Zodiac. It’s also a minor step above what most Netflix Originals have to offer, movies made by algorithms and viewer trends. Thanks to Ryan and Mackenzie, it’s a watchable reminder that there are so many true crime stories that have been lost to time. A story like this, of young girls hunted for their careers, for their use of their bodies, should never be lost.