Following in the footsteps of other inexplicable TikTok revivals (Fleetwood Mac? A random Quibi show? Criminal Minds, for some reason?), the 2011 horror movie Megan is Missing is going viral. This movie wasn’t a big hit when it came out, but due to its extreme content and social media-themed storyline, it’s an ideal choice for people to freak each other out on TikTok.
Earning mostly negative reviews at the time, Megan is Missing is a found footage horror film about a 14-year-old girl who goes missing after meeting up with a boy she met online. It was an obscure, low-budget film starring unknown actors, and until now, its main claim to fame was getting banned in New Zealand due to its “objectionable” level of sexual violence. (Spoiler alert: Megan’s story does not end happily. She gets kidnapped and tortured, culminating in an extended rape and murder sequence involving a rotting corpse in a barrel.)
Now, the movie is inspiring TikToks warning people that the events in the film “have happened, and will happen again.”
Megan is Missing taps into a couple of recurring TikTok trends: ill-informed PSAs about sex trafficking, and challenges where people react to scary videos. A lot of young people have fallen for conspiracy theories like Pizzagate via TikTok, using the app to warn others about the dangers of sex trafficking. The problem is, these “warnings” aren’t really helpful and are often just designed to scare people. Last year saw the return of a viral hoax warning people to watch out for zip ties on their car mirrors, something that sex traffickers supposedly use as a distraction tactic while targeting girls for kidnap. There’s no evidence that this is a real thing.
Similarly, TikTok users keep sharing an unsourced rumor about kidnappers hiding under cars and slashing women’s Achilles tendons, an old horror story that’s been around since the 1970s. These stories just make people scared of something that isn’t a real danger, and some people are reacting to Megan is Missing in the same way, sharing the idea that it’s based on a true story. (It isn’t, although parts of it were closely inspired by real kidnapping cases that filmmaker Michael Goi researched for the movie.) On the other hand, plenty of people are just using the movie to make regular TikToks, posting reaction videos and joking about its most memorable (ie. horrifying) scenes.
The film’s viral return led director Michael Goi to post his own response on TikTok, debunking the idea that Megan is Missing includes real photos or videos from actual violent crimes. He explained that he “recreated” some scenes from real images he found during his research, adding that much of the dialogue was directly transcribed from conversations between real kids in an attempt to make the film as realistic as possible. Goi also apologized to people who were shocked or scared by watching the film out of context and shared a warning for when to look away if they didn’t want to see disturbing images.
Megan is Missing was originally intended as a cautionary tale about the dangers of meeting up with strangers from the internet. Nine years after its original release, that plan is finally working, with TikTok users comparing the movie to their fears about internet dating.
From a critical perspective, Megan is Missing is hardly a high point in Goi’s filmography. While he went on to have a thriving career directing TV shows like Riverdale, American Horror Story, and Glee, Megan is Missing got pretty bad reviews, criticized both for its dubious acting and direction and for its torture porn content. Of course, there’s no better place for obscure media to receive a critical reappraisal than TikTok.