Lost Girls

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Lost Girls Movie Poster Image
Mom's search for missing girl is disturbing, sad; language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 95 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Demonstrates lack of resources and support -- medical, legal, psychological -- available to low-income and/or struggling families overall. Illuminates lack of law enforcement commitment in dealing with underclass victims -- in this case, female sex workers and their families. Promotes activism, courage, positive effects of victims banding together for a singular cause.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Flawed but determined single mom summons her courage, limited resources, uncompromising stubbornness. Despite odds against her, she fights fiercely for help, hopes to give a name to throwaway victims. Law enforcement played both as sincere and callous. No ethnic diversity in the locale. 


A young woman runs for her life in a scary, repeated sequence. A lengthy, desperate phone call to 911 is heard. No on-camera violence, but suspense, dread, expectations of a bad resolution prevail.


Sex crimes are core of movie. No on-camera sex or sexuality; however, victims are all identified as "sex workers," "prostitutes." 


Continuous profanity, including "f--k," "goddamn," "d--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "for Christ's sake," "whore."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking in bar, at home. Discussions about drug abuse and addiction. A young girl takes prescribed "mood stabilizers." Smoking throughout.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lost Girls is a film "inspired" by real events and based primarily on one young woman in the book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker. In 2010, one mother's attempt to find her missing daughter results in the uncovering of multiple bodies of sex workers on a beach in Long Island, victims of a serial killer. The movie is a story of frustration, blame, desperation, and sadness, all of which are meant to illuminate often callous concern for the deaths of the marginalized. Profanity is heard continually: "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn," "d--k," "hell." In addition, "prostitutes," "sex workers," "whore" are frequently used. While there's no actual on-camera violence, a young woman is shown running for her life, and a lengthy, desperate 911 call is heard. There is an overall aura of suspense, dread, and sadness. Alcohol is consumed in several social settings, and there are discussions about drug use and drug addiction. One young girl uses prescribed "mood stabilizers," and bottles of pills are shown. In a further disturbing note, at the end of the film, photographs of the dead young women are shown; they're the actual victims. For mature viewers only.  

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 16 years old Written bychatnoir17 April 15, 2021

Too long of a movie with nothing really going on

This movie didn’t have anything that stuck out as incredibly disturbing, so I say if your kid wants to see it and are either mature enough to handle the ideas t... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysophiavalentine July 13, 2020

Eye opening movie

This movie presents a mother searching for her lost daughter. It presents strong female characters who are determines to take a stand on what is right. This was... Continue reading

What's the story?

The Gilbert family is clearly struggling in LOST GIRLS. Mari (Amy Ryan) is a single mom with three daughters living in Long Island. She works two jobs to support her family and is exhausted and stretched thin. Her youngest daughter, Sarra (Oona Laurence), a preteen, is prescribed meds to stabilize her behavioral issues. When Mari's eldest, Shannan (Sarah Wisser), doesn't join her family for dinner as planned, Mari is concerned. Though she's a young woman living on her own, it's unlike Shannan not to let Mari know where she is. After a number of unanswered cellphone messages and no word from Shannan for two days, Mari goes to the local police for help. Having to acknowledge that Shannan is a sex worker is difficult for Mari, and while it's not wholly surprising, it upsets her younger sisters Sherre (Thomasin McKensie) and Sarra. Though one supervising police officer (Gabriel Byrne) has good intentions, others are unsympathetic and disinterested. Shannan's "sex worker" way of life seems to imply that the young woman was self-destructive rather than vulnerable. Mari's relentless advocacy for her missing daughter leads to the discovery of the bodies of four female sex workers -- Shannan isn't among them -- buried on a beach, setting off a search for a serial killer. 

Is it any good?

Centering upon one victim of a real serial killer, this well-made, thought-provoking, and heartfelt film raises awareness of how the marginalized people in our society suffer at the hands of many. Liz Garbus, noted for her documentary films, has transitioned to narrative filmmaking with a project that works well for her and shows her passion. The slow reveal of the depths of Mari Gilbert's struggle and the lack of resources available to her and to the families of the other victims is frightening. In the final moments of Lost Girls and in the postscript to the Gilbert family's true story, the tragedy doesn't let up, revealing that happy endings are a rarity in some broken lives, even for a woman as dogged and smart as Mari Gilbert. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the value of making movies out of true-life stories. Lost Girls is "inspired" by a true story. Would you say that the filmmakers adapted Mari Gilbert's story to entertain, inform, persuade, or inspire action from its audience? Or is it a combination of those? What was your takeaway from the film? 

  • Though there was no actual on-camera violence in the movie, were you ever frightened? Was it suspenseful? How did the filmmakers use unseen violence to heighten the tension?

  • The production design (locations, settings, costumes, colors, and lighting) is an integral element in movies. How did the production design in Lost Girls contribute to your understanding of the people involved, the mood, and the movie's viewpoint? Pick one location (e.g., the beach, the Gilbert's house) and describe the design and what it was meant to convey.

Movie details

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