Disappearance at Lake Elrod review – powerful performance in missing-girl movie

With this small-town gothic murder mystery director and co-writer Lauren Fash overdoes it with the missing-kid tropes: a grieving mom fighting for the truth; police corruption; buried secrets; a powerful family controlling the town; rusting pickup trucks; mean dudes with mullets. But there is just about enough psychological complexity in the mix in the shape of the central character Charlie, a gay woman winded by the disappearance of her eight-year-old daughter Lily. Charlie marches about town stapling missing posters to lamp-posts in the midst of an emotional breakdown or maybe even a psychotic episode – hallucinating, seeing her daughter in dark corners.

Set in Georgia in the 1990s, the film opens a year after Lily vanishes. Tough but vulnerable Charlie is played beautifully by character actor Robyn Lively (half-sister of Blake) with a riveting less-is-more stillness. The local sheriff (Stan Houston) is ignoring her. Her partner Angela (Bethany Anne Lind) has walked out; homophobia already put a strain on their relationship. When another local girl disappears, for reasons that remain foggy to me, Charlie is the prime suspect. The latest missing girl is the daughter of a whiskey heir Chip Carmichael (Michael Trucco) – he’s a toxic mix of mommy’s boy and tree-trunk-necked neanderthal.

The twists and turns of the case, familiar from a dozen past thrillers, are mostly easy to predict. Instead, the script depends on a big character reveal that just about works if you don’t think about it too hard or too long. There’s another outstanding performance too, from Shameless’s Shanola Hampton, as ambitious young TV journalist Amy, who wheedles Charlie into partnering up with her. A black female reporter, Amy is also an outsider and the two women give the movie a satisfying emotional core, even if the storyline is a bit of a letdown. I also felt the denouement fetishised abuse, just a little.

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