Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.
Starring John Cho, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Dominic Hoffman, Connor McRaith, Joseph John Schirle, and Debra Messing.
After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
For a film so dependent on technology, Searching feels peculiarly old fashioned. There’s a certain archaism to its central mystery; “daughter goes missing, father tries to find her,” and through its twists and turns, it plays out like a Hitchcockian advert for the latest Apple product.
2014’s Unfriended, an efficient if forgettable horror, previously attempted to tell a story exclusively through the screens of its characters. It’s an interesting, if oft-isolating device that often did little more than distract. Searching however exploits this isolation, using passwords and social media as a way of destroying a seemingly well-built bridge between a father and daughter.
We open on a rather brilliant sequence reminiscent of the devastating prologue of Up as we see – through pictures of first days at school, piano recitals, birthdays – a young Margot growing up. She plays with her mother Pamela (Sara Sohn) and father David (John Cho), waves at them from recital to recital; new accomplishments are placed in the calendar. Then a Google search for “fighting lymphoma”; emails from doctors start optimistic, then fall to the way side. A date on the calendar reads “mom comes home,” it’s moved month-to-month, and is then deleted. A few years on, Margot goes missing, and David has to find out why.
The film doesn’t really get any better than those first 10 minutes. Director Aneesh Chaganty – a first timer – builds an entire relationship in moments. We understand the interactions between Margot and David and where it is they stand as father and daughter through only snapshots and texts.
This makes the disappearance and slow reveal of secrets all the more effective. Chaganty exploits the paranoia of not getting that return text or that third missed call brilliantly.
Although static – be it for the occasional handheld camera-lite FaceTime session – Chaganty plays it as a taut thriller. “Breaking News” headlines flash across televisions and amber alert texts ring out like klaxons. The sounds of keyboard and mouse clicks starts off as innocuous but become something far more urgent as David manically attempts to find an answer.
John Cho is superb as David. He plays him as a father lost in time, expecting his child to look up to him as she did when she was 7. That creeping desperation feels truly desperate and his face, ever illuminated by screens, is the key to creating dread.
Logical consistencies mar the film and in particular an ending that only ever feels hurried. Debra Messing’s Detective Vick exists only as a tool for exposition and David’s naivety and rushed presumptions are occasionally bewildering.
But Chaaganty manages to wade through the idiocy of a technologically obsessed world to weave a thriller that on occasions demands real attention whilst creating a discussion on our reliance of computers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★