TW for discussion of sexual assault and severe child abuse.
One of the latest trends on TikTok involves users filming their "traumatized" reactions to the controversial indie film Megan Is Missing.
Michael Goi's 2011 movie uses found footage style to excavate the kind of psychological horror that stirs just beneath your consciousness when you hear of heinous crimes in the news, like the NXIVM sex cult, Sarah Lawrence sex cult, or anything Jeffrey Epstein said or did in his entire profane life (before he, you know, didn't kill himself). When you hear of such depraved acts of sexual abuse, you don't fully absorb the implications or lifelong impacts on the lives of the survivors.
How could you?
By now, we know that absorbing extreme stories of violent and graphic trauma is detrimental to our mental health; it can even cause post-traumatic stress disorder (just ask the YouTube content moderators who view the most vile videos on the platform for a living). Even true crime addicts, who are largely accustomed to hearing about repulsive acts, aren't drawn to crime stories for the gory details but rather the themes of survival and demanding justice in the face of impossible odds.
So why would anyone willingly subject themselves to 89 minutes of an online predator grooming a teenage girl, abducting and murdering her, and then repeating the process with her best friend?
Recently, Megan Is Missing became a hashtag viewed almost 100 million times on TikTok, featuring users' reactions to the film: "Please watch this film at your own risk. It is something I will never watch again. I am forever traumatized," posted @bella.clare; "This is hands down the most traumatizing film I've ever seen and I am not okay. Please be made aware before watching," wrote @spicysicilianmami wrote; and "I'm literally never leaving my house again. I'm not even done with the movie I still have like 15 mins left but i'm disgusted (right now)," said @h4ndfullofaids wrote.
@bella.clare please watch this film at your own risk. It is something i will never watch again . i am forever traumatized. #meganismissing #OnHold #BeKind #fyp
♬ original sound - AntiNightcore
Officially Not Rated, Megan Is Missing is banned in New Zealand as being too "objectionable," with the Office of Film and Literature Classification writing: "The feature depicts sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree, and in such a manner, that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good."
Goi ostensibly created the film as a "Don't Trust Strangers on the Internet" PSA, but as author and film scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas told The Guardian, "Goi's motive was unquestionably positive — he's a good guy who really wanted to save kids' lives —but that didn't stop Megan Is Missing from being dismissed as torture p*rn: ultimately, it still looks and feels like an exploitation film."
The two teenage girls are so painfully written from a finger-wagging adult male perspective that they're little more than caricatures of the "bad girl with a troubled past" (Megan Stewart) and her awkward, "good two-shoes" best friend (Amy Herman). The film's poor acting only highlights the script's frankly moronic view of girls coming-of-age on the Internet, somehow infantilizing while oversexualizing 14-year-old Megan as an abused girl who turns to partying and men for validation.
The first half of the film includes video chats of the girls bonding over their adolescent angst, hitting you over the head that these two misunderstood teens are just searching for love and acceptance. Aw...now cue the torture scenes?
After the movie started going viral, the writer and director posted a video acknowledging the graphic content: "I didn't get to give you the customary warnings that I used to give people before they watched Megan Is Missing, which are: Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night, do not watch the movie alone, and if you see the words 'Photo No. 1' pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie if you're already kind of freaking out before you start seeing things that maybe you don't want to see." Goi then apologized to "those who are already posting about how the movie has freaked them out."
please watch this if you’re considering watching megan is missing!!! i highly recommend against watching it but if… https://t.co/RnK6zmHQ7J— peach ミ☆ (@peach ミ☆)1605478033.0
That's an understatement for how deeply disturbing the second half of the film is. As someone who watched Megan Is Missing years before TikTok (back when it was still half a Chinese video platform and half Musical.ly), I had a visceral, stomach churning reaction upon seeing its title in the news today. It's been at least seven years since my one view of the film (which is fully available for free on YouTube, which probably helped its virality), and I'm one of those true crime addicts who falls asleep to podcasts about serial killers and still sleeps like a baby.
All of that is to say: Megan Is Missing is genuinely disturbing and one of those films that has you questioning for days what the line is between trauma p*rn and brutal examinations of crimes that we've become desensitized to. Hopefully, if we're so jarred and so unsettled by a fictional account of sexual abuse (Megan Is Missing is not based on a true story but rather influenced by too many true accounts of kidnapping and child abuse), then we're more likely to fight for justice, right? Right?!
Anyway, if you're like me and stumble upon Megan Is Missing on YouTube, then you'll find a corner of the platform with similar psychologically disturbing movies that force you to examine the social realities of crimes that are too often sensationalized in the news but not critically examined.
These films don't depict the over-the-top psychopathy of Silence of the Lambs or elicit the anxiety-thrill of a true crime podcast. Rather, these films graphically depict the all too common villainy of neighborhood sexual predators and the lasting repercussions of sexual assault, from a casually heinous pedophile next door to the uncular charm of a child sex trafficker. Watch at your own risk.
Directed and written by Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elisabeth Shue, and Brady Corbet: "A teenage hustler and a young man obsessed with alien abductions cross paths, together discovering a horrible, liberating truth."
Written and directed by Damian Harris, Gardens of the Night stars Gillian Jacobs, John Malkovich, Tom Arnold, and Kevin Zegers: "After being abducted as children, and suffering years of abuse, a teenage boy and girl find themselves living on the street."
A review in The New York Times states, "Recovery time is recommended after seeing Gardens of the Night, a harrowing, obliquely told story of kidnapping and forced child prostitution that conjures a world entirely populated by predators and prey."[
Written by Nicole Kassell and based on the play of the same name by Steven Fechter, The Woodsman stars Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, and Mos Def: "A child molester returns to his hometown after 12 years in prison and attempts to start a new life."
Written by Brian Nelson and directed by David Slade, Hard Candy stars Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, and Sandra Oh: "A teenager meets a man in order to expose him under the suspicion that he abducts underage girls."
Written and directed by Barry Levinson and based on the book of the same name by Lorenzo Carcaterra, Sleepers stars Robert De Niro, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Minnie Driver, Billie Crudup, and Dustin Hoffman: "After a prank goes disastrously wrong, a group of boys are sent to a detention center where they are brutalized. Thirteen years later, an unexpected random encounter with a former guard gives them a chance for revenge."
Roger Ebert called it "a pretty good movie on more superficial levels" but found homophobic overtones in the film's over-reliance on the male-on-male nature of the sexual assaults to justify revenge.
Here are some sleepy kittens to help cheer you up: