The Viral Phenomenon of ‘Megan Is Missing’ and Why it’s Alright to be Disturbed

Rachel Quinn (Megan) and Amber Perkins (Amy) in Megan is Missing (2011). Megan and Amy are sitting on Megan's bed in her room, looking into a webcam as they chat to "Josh". Megan is sitting closer to the camera, eager, whilst Amy sits further back, looking a bit nervous.
Anchor Bay Films

TW: Mention of child sexual assault.

The 2011 horror, Megan is Missing, from writer-director Michael Goi has recently resurfaced this year and has gone viral on the social media platform, TikTok, and was also trending on Twitter due to the disturbing nature of the film. Through various webcam and found video footage, we witness the days leading up to popular high school student Megan Stewart’s (Rachel Quinn) disappearance after she befriends a stranger online named “Josh.” Megan’s best friend, Amy Herman (Amber Perkins), decides to investigate Megan’s disappearance herself, bringing around a video camera to document herself. Because this film has taken off this year, Goi released a warning of his own on TikTok saying, “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.” Goi also warned people of a specific photo that would be shown at some point during the film that could potentially scare people even worse than they already were, and that they should avoid viewing this photo during their watch. 

TikTok users have been filming themselves reacting to the film, typically such reaction videos end in tears or looks of absolute horror in their eyes, mouths agape, with slowed down versions of Rät by Penelope Scott or Somebody That I Used To Know by Gotye playing almost hauntingly in the background. Many users include this film on lists that they call “movies that traumatized me” or “scariest movies I’ve ever seen.” While most users warn their viewers with trigger warnings and captions such as, “if you’re thinking about watching this movie, please don’t,” or claiming “although I’m not usually affected by horror movies, this film deeply affected me.” Some older people who saw this movie when it first came out have said that they were so disturbed by what occurred in the film that they were too scared to go outside for a period of time. And with such mystery surrounding this newly viral film, it forces people to ask, “what could possibly be so bad about this movie?” and eventually decide to go to YouTube and check it out for themselves despite the warnings. As with any horror film that has been catapulted into popular culture, thus going viral on mainstream media, there is a lot of hype surrounding this film. If you scroll through the comments on these TikTok videos, you will find a myriad of reactions, but despite the growing concern online, being told not to watch something only makes people want to watch it more, which accounts for the sudden surge of people viewing this film. 

This horror film is, in fact, not great, with the acting subpar at best. So, this is in no defense of the film itself, we all know that it’s not being spoken about right now because there’s a debate over whether or not it’s an objectively good or bad film, but because of the disturbing plotline and why it’s gone so viral online. What has been especially spoken about is the last twenty or so minutes that contain most of the alarming material, which clearly hit a nerve for a lot of viewers, especially younger people who are now expressing their thoughts and fearful reactions on social media. While most agree with being equally petrified by the content within this film, some on the other hand will take the time to brag about the fact that this film wasn’t nearly as bad as they thought it would be and that it didn’t live up to the hype. People even go as far to suggest other films that far surpass Megan Is Missing in terms of violent or disturbing content that they deem as more worthy of such controversy. If there were a bingo card for every time a horror film went viral, someone mentioning A Serbian Film as a much more appropriate contender for scariest film would certainly be crossed out every time.

Rachel Quinn (Megan) and Amber Perkins (Amy) in Megan is Missing (2011). A split screen shows Megan and Amy video calling. On the left screen Megan is lying in bed under the covers, and on the right screen Amy is talking to her, holding her camera close to her face.
Blue Anchor Films

TW: Mention of child sexual assault. There is a scene in this film that features the sexual assault of a minor, and frankly, including a drawn-out scene like this in any film is unnecessary and can be extremely harmful, especially to younger viewers, regardless of the justifications that its being used as some sort of teaching purpose or a warning for people to be cautious on the internet. Much like the graphic content in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, there are some lines that do not need to be crossed in order for people to understand a message, and at some point, it just becomes exploitative for its shock-value. For this reason, Megan Is Missing should not be heralded as a good teaching lesson, not even for adults, who were Goi’s intended audience for this film, but with all its faults, this film is rooted in the unfortunate reality that these cases do indeed happen, making it all the more horrific.

Expressing basic empathy for young girls forced into a terrible situation does not make anyone pathetic, rather, it means that they have not been so numbed by violence and gore that they are unable to feel. No one deserves a trophy for being able to stomach sensitive material without getting affected, and sure, we could all agree that there are “worse” films that exist out there, but that’s not the point. It is completely fine for horror fans to enjoy films filled to the brim with blood and guts, but this is not one of those films.

A horror film does not have to be absolutely repulsive in order for it to be scary. The worst takes about this film are from people who act as if they are above younger viewers having a visceral reaction to seeing underage girls, who are close to their own age, being portrayed in very dangerous and very real situations. After this film began trending on Twitter, there were a lot of people criticising the younger generation for being “soft” due to their emotional reactions to the film, a common mantra that seems to suggest that people are lesser for expressing valid emotions. But for some of these young people, this is their first real experience witnessing such brutality on the screen, and even if it isn’t their first time, they still have every right to react the way they are because it is not a sign of weakness to feel upset when watching young girls put into terrible situations. 

by Alysha Prasad

Alysha Prasad (she/her) is a freelance writer who is currently pursuing her Master’s Degree in Film and Television at DePaul University in Chicago. Her favourite films include: Call Me By Your Name, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Before Sunset. You can find her on Twitter at @leeshprasad.

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