After a late night study session with some class mates, sixteen year old Margot (newcomer Michelle La) disappears into thin air. Her father, David (John Cho in a career-best performance - most audiences will recognise him as Sulu in the new ‘Star Trek’ movies), is left anguished. A local investigation led by Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing in a decidedly more dramatic role than ‘Will & Grace’) is commenced. David searches through Margot’s laptop for digital footprints she might have left, which may give a clue to her whereabouts. The more he searches, the more David realises he hardly knew his daughter, and the odds of ever finding her become more and more uncertain.
The first credit owed to ‘Searching’ is its magnificent opening, which features one of the most emotional movie montages since Disney Pixar’s tearjerker ‘Up.’ After that, the film launches into a gripping, thrilling narrative with a mystery at its core that will wholly hook you in. It is unsurprising that it won the Audience award at the Sundance Film Festival as it really is a film that enraptures you as an audience member.
Weaved through its thriller conventions is a family drama about a father and daughter who are struggling to connect. The film is about how in modern society, the means by which we communicate isolate as well as make contact, and it is also a movie about grief and loss. What director Aneesh Chaganty does (his debut feature, after doing a number of shorts) that is particularly fascinating, is that the themes are explored not only through the story but through the stylistic approach of the film itself.
The entire movie plays out on screens, be it on the characters’ laptop screens, phones, or television screens. A similar move was made with the 2014 horror ‘Unfriended’, as well as its recent sequel ‘Unfriended: Dark Web’. It could very well be the case that ‘screen movies’ become a genre in the future, and ‘Searching’ is a commendable trailblazer in how it uses screens to tell its layered story.
In spite of having perhaps too neat an ending, ‘Searching’ is an immensely enjoyable film, both from the perspective of it being an intense thriller and an emotional family drama. The format of the film deserves high commendation - expect to see copycats but for now, ‘Searching’ has set the bar.