The nearly ten-year-old film Megan Is Missing hit TikTok recently, and the world is buzzing with questions. What is photo #1 warning? Are the pictures real? Why did it freak you out so badly?
Thanks to recent popularity on TikTok, Megan Is Missing is trending again. The compilation of news stories, video chats, video diary entries, and phone calls is not the best-acted thing you will see all year. The 2011 shocker Megan Is Missing is many things. One of those is not a typical after school special on the dangers of internet chat rooms. Unless you grew up in the ’80s, your after school specials were decidedly vanilla. They were more teen Netflix drama than scary. However, in the ’80s, there was one after-school special that shared some of the same bones as Michael Goi’s film.
1981’s Angel Dusted starring Jean Stapleton and a very young Helen Hunt showcased the dangers of trying PCP. Anyone who saw that movie was scarred for life. A blond, bloodied, and very broken Hunt threw herself out of a glass window two stories to the concrete below and then danced around on broken bones screaming “it doesn’t hurt.”. That was some scary stuff. Megan Is Missing uses the same kind of gruesome storytelling to scare a new crop of viewers away from the web.
The found-footage gem is a study in slow-burning dread. Megan and Amy are fourteen-year-old best friends and polar opposites. Amy is sheltered, loved, and cautious, while Megan has already seen more trauma in her short years than most will see in their whole lives. Her father left her years ago, her stepfather sexually abused her before going to jail, and her mother hates Megan for his incarceration. She frequently takes chances that put her in danger and routinely debases herself for drugs and attention. Before she meets Josh, Megan is headed for trouble, and it is uncomfortable to watch.
The two do genuinely care about one another, though and in the glimpses of their time together recorded in video chats and video camera footage, Megan is her authentic self. She is a lonely girl who craves love. She desperately wants someone to love and respect her. It is her most defining character trait and the one that Josh(or whatever his real name is) exploits. Just a few conversations later, Megan has disappeared, and Amy’s search for her friend puts her right in his crosshairs.
After Amy has a few conversations with Josh, she suspects he knows something about Megan’s whereabouts. She goes to the police to give them the information, and Josh begins to stalk her. Unbeknownst to her, he watches her for days until he snatches her and her little bear. In one of the most heartbreaking and harrowing twenty minutes of any movie, Amy is tortured, abused, raped in a brutal extended scene, and buried alive with Megan’s decomposing corpse. There is very little actual gore shown, and the rape scene isn’t in any way comparable to Irreversible. However, it is easily one of the most squirm-worthy sequences you will ever see. Here are all your questions answered.
What is with the photo warnings?
Director Michael Goi, who has since worked on the likes of American Horror Story and Salem, made his own video on TikTok explaining he normally warns people before viewing Megan Is Missing to not watch alone, in the middle of the night, and to shut the movie off when you see the words photo #1 if you are already scared. Is the warning a slice of homespun viral advertising? Of course, it is. That doesn’t mean the photos aren’t horrifying.
There are only two photos, and they each appear for just a few seconds that feel like hours. Those pictures were found on a dark web fetish site and show Megan attached to some sort of torture table device with her head above the table and her nearly naked body below. Her face is contorted by fear and a device pulls her mouth and nose open. One photo is a full-body shot, and the other is an excruciating close-up of her face. It is straight nightmare fuel. While the images are not real, they were influenced by real-life crimes that happen to innocent people who are fooled by internet predators. Unfortunately, there are depraved people out there with active imaginations and loads of manipulative skills.
Is the barrel scene real?
Nothing in Goi’s movie is real, despite how real it feels. Many of the elements are ripped straight from the headlines, however. One example is Amy’s burial in the barrel. As far back as 1870, the mafia used barrel burial as a means of execution. Just recently, serial killer Terry Rasmussen’s crimes were solved by examining barrels he used to dispose of his victims. The worst thing about Amy’s burial scene is not being crammed into the small space with her dead friend, although that’s pretty terrible. The worst part was her continuous attempt to appeal to Josh. She never gave up, hoping she would be able to change his mind and escape. Her innocence, even faced with the worst of humanity, remained intact. Her muffled pleas and cries are easily the most heartwrenching thing about the final act.
Why Does Megan Is Missing scare us so badly?
I have heard about this movie for years. It’s whispered about in Reddit and Facebook groups as the most disturbing thing you will ever see. It wasn’t until recently that I watched it. I’m not a traditional fan of these kinds of movies. That isn’t to say I haven’t seen Antichrist, Martyrs, Salo, and Human Centipede, to name just a few. I’m just not fond of those sorts of movies. Gross for the sake of gross isn’t scary. I thought this is what Megan Is Missing would be like. I was wrong.
This film is scary because things like this happen every day to real people who trust the wrong people. There is hardly any blood except for one bloody hand during the extremely uncomfortable real-time rape scene. Megan’s rotting body is only shown for a second, and it isn’t nearly as putrid as you would think. Goi’s film is graphic in other ways. The short views of a bound and obviously terrified girl are graphic. Watching a young girl clinging to a teddy bear as she is forced to eat like a dog by a monster is graphic on its own. The cries and screams of a scared innocent girl begging for her life are hideous.
These are images and sounds I may never forget. Genital mutilation is bad. Amy’s death scene is worse. There is something very raw about the loss of innocence that rings true in this film. It isn’t a classic horror film. This film shouldn’t be judged that way. It isn’t meant to frighten you with coverall-wearing killers or jump-scares. It is emotionally scarring. If it didn’t bother you, it might be time to get some help.
Megan Is Missing is a cautionary tale disguised as a shocker. It is meant to be affecting. The internet is full of predators just waiting to take our dignity, identity, money, or lives. It’s a scary place sometimes, and in a post-pandemic world, the web has gotten even weirder. Be careful who you and your kids are talking to. The Josh’s of the world know exactly what to say. Internet trolls are the least scary thing out there right now. They may be unpleasant, but at least they are obvious monsters. The ones with broken cameras, synthesized voices, and faked photos are the real danger. It’s too late for the fictional Amy and Megan. It isn’t too late for us.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.