Haunting ‘Lost Girls’ revisits Long Island serial murders

Documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus (“The Farm: Angola, USA,” “What Happened, Miss Simone?”) turns to dramatized true crime with a grim story many New Yorkers will know: the string of murders of young women on the south shore of Long Island, whose bodies were uncovered between 2010 and 2011, and whose killer has yet to be found.

Amy Ryan (“Beautiful Boy”) brings depth and fire to the role of Mari Gilbert, a working-class mom whose daughter Shannan goes missing after frantically calling 911 from a gated beach community. When Mari takes her case to two detectives (Gabriel Byrne and Dean Winters), she’s met with an infuriating but somewhat predictable disinterest — especially when they learn her daughter was a sex worker. An accidental discovery of other female bodies dumped in the area stirs up media hunger for the tawdriness of a tale about murdered prostitutes.

Garbus’ film is at its best when giving voice to the female relatives of these victims, who come together to pressure the cops — who’ve been instructed to downplay the possible connection between the killings — to do more. Its most pointed moments are in exchanges between the detectives. “Who spends this much time looking for a dead hooker?” one of them says, moments after Mari has left the room.

“Lost Girls” loses some momentum in the domestic scenes with Mari and her other daughters (Thomasin McKenzie and Oona Laurence), which are so brief, they feel cut down for time. But when Garbus takes the long view — her camera pulling back to emphasize the awful loneliness of the marshy stretches where these women died — “Lost Girls” hits hard.

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