Told entirely through computer and phone screens along with various news reports, “Searching” is a very unique thriller with relatable characters and plenty of twists and turns that leave audiences entertained the whole way through.
“Searching” is the latest online thriller starring John Cho as David Kim, a father investigating the disappearance of his 16-year-old child, Margot (Michelle La), after an extended study session that lasts the entire night at a friend’s house. Afterward, Margot vanishes without any trace of her location. Trying to stitch together the events leading up to his daughter’s disappearance, David goes through all of Margot’s contacts and social media to find anyone with information about his daughter.
A film that “Searching” can be compared to is the cyber-thriller, “Unfriended.” Both films are told from the perspective of a computer screen, involving a disturbing mystery that’s causing the disappearance of, and possible harm to, central characters. Yet, “Searching” goes beyond “Unfriended” with its well-written narrative and incredible detail to realism.
The one thing “Unfriended” is lacking, due to its cyber-storytelling, is its cinematic editing. With just the screen on display, the whole film gives the impression of simply watching someone on their computer. On the other hand, “Searching” uses editing to zoom in on important details and uses the space of the desktop for storytelling purposes.
Due to the fantastic writing and the great performance by Cho, David is the most relatable, realistic thriller protagonist in recent memory. The relationship he has with his daughter is exactly how a parent and child would act and respond to each other. The opening 10 minutes of the film set up the Kim family and the struggles they face. It is so genuinely emotional that it will leave some people tearing up before the central plot kicks in. When David is failing to get in contact with Margot, his reactions and justifications perfectly fit with how a real person’s mind would process that situation. David is a great leading character, and Cho does a fantastic job bringing him to life.
The supporting characters were also very well acted. For as little screen time as she has, La left an impression and conveyed many emotions without overselling it. Adding to the mystery of her true personality, a majority of her delivery can be interpreted in multiple ways. She’s not overacting or trying to achieve a great performance; rather she simply portrays an everyday teenage girl with a few hidden secrets.
There’s also Debra Messing as Detective Vick, who’s assigned to Margot’s case. She gave a very strong and sympathetic performance through her dialogue exchanged with David over FaceTime. This is a very talented cast that was gifted a very well-written script that made their characters relatable and memorable to the audience.
The digital storytelling is where the movie really shines. Every moment of the narrative is told through a computer screen, on a smartphone and through news broadcasts. I was pleasantly surprised by how well director Aneesh Chaganty kept the film technique going without making it feel played out. Besides a couple of moments when characters left their webcams on, everything about the flow of David searching through files on his computers and flying through various websites feels very natural.
“Searching” is probably the most believable found footage movie simply due to the incredible planning of how each internet search and online task flows together. If this story had been told in a more conventional way, then it would not have been as engaging and entertaining. For a mystery that’s completed through internet and file searches, it manages to be incredibly engaging and exciting to see unfold.
For a small, independent film that takes a big risk with its form of storytelling, there is not anything bad to point out about “Searching.” While it gets a bit too slow at points and follows a couple tropes of the typical Hollywood thriller, there’s nothing negative to say that dampers the overall excitement the film offers.
I would highly recommend seeing “Searching” in theaters and would encourage everyone to avoid spoilers online. This is a film worth watching while knowing very little.