In a time when most people go to the movies to see the newest superhero film produced by Marvel or DC or the latest release in an almost two decade-long franchise (Mission Impossible), it’s a rewarding experience to come across an original movie that should be seen and appreciated by a larger audience. And that movie is Searching.
What makes this movie unique is that the entire story is told through computer screens, a technique I have never seen before but previously appeared in the horror movie Unfriended. I was worried that I might get annoyed by this storytelling vehicle, or possibly not feel connected to the plot at all, because it might be too distracting. But using the devices that are part of our everyday life to tell a compelling story actually seems like an obvious thing to do.
As the movie begins, we are introduced to the loving Kim family – father David, mother Pam, and young daughter Margot – through home videos on someone’s computer, which we find out later is Pam’s. We see them do normal family activities, such as cooking together and traditional first day of school pictures. Towards the end of the home movie montage, we discover that after multiple years of fighting with cancer, Pam succumbs to the disease and brings us to the present time in the film.
When Margot (Michelle La) goes missing, a national manhunt begins in search of her and it’s up to David, played fantastically by John Cho (Harold and Kumar, Star Trek) to go through her laptop and help Detective Vick (Debra Messing) find out exactly why the 16-year-old disappeared. What happened to Margot? Was she kidnapped or murdered? Or did she run away? The movie presents us with evidence that any one of these possibilities could be the reason. It’s not until the final moments do we find out what actually happened.
First-time director Aneesh Chaganty, who also co-wrote the script with Sev Ohanian, gives us a film that asks many questions about our relationship with technology. David is almost always in contact with his daughter through phone calls, text messages, or video chats. He exclaims multiple times in the first act of the film that “I know my daughter!” Yet, after David talks to her friends from the contacts in her phone and social media accounts, he discovers that maybe he doesn’t really know who his daughter is.
There’s a scene in this movie in which I think Chaganty truly captures our use of social media and how it can lead to the glorification of tragedy. When the manhunt to find Margot becomes a national story, we see her so-called “friends’” reactions to her going missing on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. A girl who only invited Margot over to help her get good grades for college posts a video (that hits almost 100,000 views) of her crying about how much she misses her best friend. Others post statuses about Margot in order to get likes and let other people know that they, too, are upset about her disappearance and would like some recognition for their suffering.
Searching is a modern and original thriller that is a welcome breath of fresh air to the world of cinema. Every sound effect we hear and every screen we see makes us feel as if we are following the story with our phones and computers just as David does. John Cho, Debra Messing, and the rest of the cast play a pivotal role in making this Sundance winner a solid entry into the thriller genre. Aneesh Chaganty’s thought-provoking and exciting debut film has me looking forward to his next project.
Sound effects that will have you constantly checking your phone: 4.4 out of 5
Constant mystery of “Whodunit”: 4.2 out of 5
Surprisingly non-distracting visual storytelling method: 5 out 5
How to View: A highly recommended thriller that you will not be disappointed by seeing in theaters.