The filmmakers behind “Lost Girls,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and is set to begin streaming on Netflix in March, hope that more attention on the case will finally bring the truth to light.
“We all made the movie having a lot of questions and not having all the answers,” director Liz Garbus said at an informal panel after the premiere of the film last week. “We made the truest version of the movie we could make based on what we had. Hopefully with Netflix behind us, the movie will go out there and we’ll get some more answers.”
The film explores the unsolved murders of women along South Oyster Bay that police attribute to the elusive Long Island Serial Killer. Based on Robert Kolker’s investigative novel, “Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,” the film focuses on Mari Gilbert (played by Amy Ryan), a mom driven to find her missing daughter, Shannan, and who must battle to overcome what she believes is police inaction in the case.
Ultimately, Gilbert’s unrelenting prodding of police for answers in her daughter’s 2010 disappearance led to the discovery of 10 sets of human remains at Gilgo Beach, many believed to be sex workers.
Theories abound as to whether the murders were the work of one killer or several as the slayings remain unsolved to this day. About a year after the gruesome discovery, Shannan Gilbert’s body was also found, though the circumstances surrounding her death are also unclear: her family believes she was murdered, though authorities haven’t yet determined if she was the victim of foul play.
Unfortunately, tragedy continued to follow the Gilbert family. In 2016, Mari Gilbert was stabbed to death by one of her other daughters, Sarra, in the summer of 2016.
“Mari Gilbert wasn’t listened to and she raised her voice, and she continued to raise it people started to listen,” Garbus said at Sundance in Park City, Utah. “And she suffered a tragic end, and the film is dedicated to her memory, a memory of a badass woman who won’t take no for an answer. We hope there is some justice and that this film propels the conversation forward.”
On the same day the trailer for the film dropped, a photograph of a belt believed to be handled by the serial killer or killers possibly responsible was released to the public as evidence. Despite a court order in 2018, authorities have still not released a 911 call from Shannan Gilbert from the night of her disappearance.
“Maybe we can put some pressure to get that phone call released,” Ryan said at Sundance.
Actor Dean Winter portrays a composite character of a cop who doesn’t take the cases seriously because it involves women that advertised sex work on Craigslist. Other characters in the film have real-world counterparts, including Peter Hackett (Reed Brimley), a doctor that lived in the area who Mari Gilbert suspected was involved in her daughter's death. She filed a lawsuit against him in 2012, which included a wrongful death claim. That specific claim was dismissed by a judge in 2013 on the grounds that it was beyond the statute of limitations.
“I tried to keep it ambiguous because it is ambiguous. He comes off very badly, I think,” Brimley said at Sundance. “When we were doing it, I really tried to have him be terrifying but not necessarily the guy. He’s around, he’s still alive. I imagine when this movie comes out we might hear from him.”
Netflix will release “Lost Girls” in select theaters and on the streaming platform on March 13.
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