Your 15-year-old daughter goes missing, what do you do?
If it’s 2018 and your daughter is like any other millennial, then use her laptop and social media to gather clues and track her down, right? This is the question central to the premise of writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s timely Apple laden mystery thriller Searching.
The story is told completely through screens, mostly computer, but also a video camera and phone screens. Think Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield style but the 2018 updated version. Comparable to how Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web is shot but in my opinion done much more effectively here. With the narrative being confined to a screen throughout, it’s laudable that this never hampers the storytelling.
The film begins with a heart-tugging compilation of family videos that introduce father David Kim (John Cho) his wife Pam (Sara Sohn) and daughter Margot (Michelle La). This sequence progresses to show Margot growing from cute innocent rambunctious child to a teenager dealing with the loss of her mother due to cancer. From the beginning, Searching establishes a convincing emotional component that gripped me throughout. Chaganty makes it impossible for you not to feel for his protagonist, David.
We are briefly introduced to current day Margot via Facetime. Shortly thereafter, she goes missing following a late night study session. David is briefly convinced that she went on a weekend camping trip with her friends. Once he discovers this to be untrue, he files a police report. Detective Vick (Debra Messing), an established award-winning officer, is assigned to the case and together they team up to unearth the whereabouts of the missing teen.
David uses Margot’s laptop to dig through her social media and reaches out to her friends to gather evidence. Through this process, it becomes apparent that he doesn’t really know his daughter. Thought by David to be happy and well-liked, he realizes that she is actually melancholy, brooding, unpopular and lonely. This has to be another resonant aspect of the movie for parents. Of course, there’s the striking fear of having your child go missing, but also of not really knowing who your child is. The latter problem maybe not as scary, however, much more prevalent than the former.
The audience is taken for a ride with David as he encounters shady money transfers, Margot’s fake id, her submerged vehicle, a suspicious social media follower, troublesome text messages, a movie theater brawl with a teenager and of course the typical mystery movie twists. Cho deftly portrays a father who’s gradually losing it as he scrambles to save his dearly beloved daughter. His talent is undeniable. Cho seamlessly transitions from roles like the hapless stoner in the Harold and Kumar movies to more serious portrayals like in Searching.
Moreover, along with the acting, the screenplay is superb. Viewers would enjoy watching this film twice and realizing the significance in every scene which they have might missed the first time around. I assure you even the most ostensibly trivial of dialogue and occurrences all have meaning, which lends to Searching being so satisfying. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the protagonist-antagonist dynamic that adds to this movies resonance. (Spoiler alert….sort of) Ultimately, this is a story centered on the lengths, both good and bad, that parents are willing to go to in order to save their child.
The reliance of the internet and technology to drive this story makes Searching a timely release (a movie like this was bound to be released at some point right?). Similarly, our society is so heavily driven by the internet, social media and technology. However, what’s refreshing is Chaganty doesn’t seem to be positing this facet of our society as either good or bad. He leaves that up for the audience to decide. Instead, he focuses on establishing a powerful emotional component, building suspense and crafting an engaging story that viewers are sure to enjoy.