Megan is Missing: The horror movie you can only watch once | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Megan is Missing, the 2011 found footage movie, has enjoyed a resurgence in the TikTok era. Why? Because it’s one of the most disturbing films you’ll ever see. So, here’s why it’s the horror movie you can only watch once (at most). 

Halloween is creeping ever closer, so what better time to ruminate on the horror genre. There’s a myriad of subcategories, but for the sake of this deep dive, we’re lumping everything into two. The first being spooky, creepy, or scary – think all of the classics, from Halloween to Paranormal Activity; It to The Exorcist. 

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Then there are psychological horrors, presenting unsettling narratives that get inside our brains and leave their sordid mark by prompting introspection. They might leave viewers questioning perceptions, confronting inner demons, and grappling with uncomfortable truths about humanity. 

Megan is Missing very much falls into the latter category – there’s a good reason why it’s been dubbed 2011’s scariest movie, and why it traumatized an entirely new generation when it went viral on TikTok. Warming: spoilers ahead and some may find this content distressing. 

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What is Megan is Missing about?

Before we get into the whys, let’s first take a look at what Megan is Missing is about. Directed by Michael Goi, this cautionary tale about internet safety centers on the titular character, a popular teenage high school student (Rachel Quinn) who encounters an online predator. When Megan goes missing, things take a disturbing turn as her friend Amy (Amber Perkins) investigates her disappearance. 

As per the official synopsis: “Fourteen-year–old Megan and her best friend Amy spend a lot of time on the internet, posting videos of themselves and chatting with guys online. One night Megan chats with a boy named Josh who convinces her to meet him for a date. The next day, Megan is missing forever. Based on actual cases of child abduction, this thriller will keep you riveted, as you realize how easy it is to fall victim to harm in this technological age.”

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Megan is Missing plays out like a snuff film

The 2011 film Megan is Missing remains, for many, one of the most disturbing and uncomfortable viewing experiences in the realm of horror films. While the genre itself often pushes boundaries and delves into uncomfortable territory, this particular film has stood out due to its gritty realism.

Alongside a found-footage style, the movie features warnings and information that make it feel as if you’re watching a news alert or documentary. In the opening sequence, text across the screen reads: “On January 14, 2007, 14-year-old Megan Stewart disappeared. Three weeks later, her best friend Amy Herman also vanished. This film was assembled using cell phone transmissions, computer files, home videos, and public news reports.”

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The announcement sets the tone for the rest of Megan is Missing, making it easy to forget you’re watching a work of fiction. As it edges towards a truly shocking final act, it plays out like a gut-wrenchingly graphic snuff film.

Anchor Bay Films

But there is some truth to the narrative, as it’s based around actual abduction cases. Goi even confirmed on his TikTok account that forensic investigators served as technical advisors to ensure it appeared more realistic and to assist in creating a truly effective warning to teenagers to stay safe online. 

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What’s more, we know these sorts of cases unfold worldwide everyday. ​​As highlighted by the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center, there are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to be groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online and, according to the FBI, over 50% of the victims of online sexual exploitation are between the ages of 12 and 15.

To see how a particularly extreme situation like this might play out in such graphic detail makes for an experience that will shock most viewers to their very core. Even I, a seasoned fan of the macabre, found the realism of Megan is Missing tough to stomach. 

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The sexualization of teenage characters

Even before the film reaches its grisly climax, Megan is Missing features numerous sexual scenes involving underage girls. Although the actresses playing them were of age when the cameras were rolling, viewers are repeatedly reminded that the characters depicted are just 14 years old. 

Although no nudity is shown, we see Megan performing a sex act on a boy, a teen cuddling with an older man, and explicit sexual discussions. In the final act, Amy – said to be 13 years old at the start of the film – is seen in her underwear while imprisoned by the sadistic perpetrator. 

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Still from Megan is MissingAnchor Bay Films

It could be argued that these details are necessary to drive home the reality of teenagers today, and of child exploitation. But that’s not to say it’s easy to watch – far from it. Critics have suggested over the years that Megan is Missing exploits the very horrors it seeks to warn against, and for those who agree with this sentiment, watching it once is already one time too many.

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Nothing will prepare you for Photo #1

At approximately 56 minutes into Megan is Missing – if you’ve managed to make it this far – some of the most disturbing imagery ever seen in cinema is shown. Juxtaposed with a chaotic scene in which a reenactment of Megan’s abduction is played on the news in overly dramatic fashion, the screen goes black, presenting text that reads:

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“On March 4, 2007, two photos of a girl later identified to be Megan Stewart were posted on a fetish website bulletin board. The owner of the website contacted the FBI because of the disturbing nature of the photos. These photos have never been previously released to the public.”

Still from Megan is MissingAnchor Bay Films

Viewers are then subjected to “Photo #1”: a flash-hued close-up of Megan’s face, her head locked into a wooden board as her nostrils are pulled back by a nose hook and her mouth gaped open from a metal spider claw. She has blood dripping down the side of her face, seeping into the wood, and makeup smudged around her wide eyes. A second photo is then shown with a similar depiction, only this time you see Megan’s half naked body trapped within a wooden pillory.

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The photos leave little to the imagination, vividly illustrating the extent of the horror she suffered. They’re not stylized or abstract; they are presented in a raw and unfiltered manner, making them hard to digest. They also underscore the film’s primary message about the dangers of online grooming, forcing viewers to confront the harsh realities of child exploitation – ones that most would rather leave locked away. 

As discussed, the found footage style of the film lends an air of authenticity to the events portrayed, making the photos feel more like criminal evidence than just movie props. If you haven’t seen Megan is Missing and you’re considering giving it a watch this Halloween, a word of warning: once you see them, you can’t unsee them. 

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In defense of Megan is Missing

To be clear, the intention here is not to diminish Goi’s objective. As a father himself, he’s been very open about the fact that the purpose of Megan is Missing was never actually to exploit the narrative for views, but instead highlight and raise awareness about the issues of abduction, online grooming, and child abuse. 

When the film went viral on TikTok in 2020, Goi even took to his own page to give potential viewers a fair warning. “I got a text from Amber Perkins, the lead actress in my movie, that it was exploding on TikTok at the moment,” he said. 

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“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 number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie if you’re already freaking out, before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”

Even the filmmaker behind the camera knows his work could be too much for some. And those who can stomach it the first time round will likely turn down the chance to tune in for a second. As we’ve explored, Megan is Missing is not the kind of fun Halloween viewing to revisit every time the spooky season rolls around.

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If you know you can’t handle such imagery but you’ve got FOMO right now, you can always remind yourself of why you don’t want to put yourself through it by checking out some of the reaction videos on TikTok. If you can, Megan is Missing is available on-demand on Amazon Prime Video, which you can sign up for here. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 

For more horror coverage, hit the links below: 

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