Tapping into how technology has invaded nearly every facet of our lives, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching (which was previously known as Search) is an incredible piece of filmmaking and a stunning feature-length debut from an up-and-coming director who has crafted one of the most innovative and uniquely gripping thrillers to come out in some time. While his approach may be reminiscent of recent films like Unfriended, The Den, or even Open Windows, Searching confidently blazes its own path, perfectly blending tension and tech, and giving us a story with a real emotional core at its center, which hit me harder than I was expecting. Simply put, Searching is a truly exemplary effort from everyone involved.
Told through the use of laptops, iPhones, and other portable electronic devices, Searching first introduces us to the Kim family through a montage of visuals, including home videos, pictures, texts, and emails. Through these images, we learn about the lives of David (John Cho) and Pamela Kim (Sara Sohn), who go through the ups and downs of bringing their daughter, Margot (Michelle La), into the world, navigating the tricky waters of parenthood, and coming together as a family to get Pam through a cancer diagnosis. Pam’s health takes a turn for the worse, and both David and Margot are forced to face life without their beloved mother and wife. This loss causes Margot to isolate herself from David in ways he never realizes until she goes missing one night. He sets out to find his daughter with the assistance of Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), utilizing a variety of methods that include digging around on and offline, and everything that unfolds in Searching is very unexpected.
While I’ve been a fan of the various “screen life”-themed films we’ve seen over the last few years (a term appropriately coined by Searching producer Timur Bekmambetov), this feature debut effort from Chaganty feels like something truly special, as it confidently balances a palpable sense of tension with raw, gut-punch emotion, which comes from a trio of brilliant performances by Cho, Messing, and La. What puts their acting in a category all its own is the fact that throughout production, none of the actors were able to share the same space, therefore their work in Searching was isolated, but it never reads that way throughout the film. The script, co-written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, masterfully weaves its whodunit mystery on two levels: what happened to Margot when she disappeared, and what exactly was this young woman up to without her well-meaning Dad even realizing?
Beyond the fact that Chaganty has done an admirable job of creating a taut and intriguing thriller, Searching also serves as something of a cautionary tale, especially considering how much of our lives we now spend online. The thing is, there has always been a disconnect between teenagers and their parental units—that’s the nature of life—but now that social media is a thing, and there are also endless websites that give anyone with a computer a platform, the danger of that disconnection is astoundingly terrifying in these modern times. Once David realizes that he actually knows very little about what Margot has been up to, or who she is even friends with, that’s when the panic sets in for both Mr. Kim and us as viewers, because it’s a horrible feeling whenever you discover someone you love isn’t the person you thought they were—and that’s something that is universal to all of us, whether or not you have kids. To anyone who thinks they’ve “seen it all” when it comes to tech-based storytelling, I assure you that Searching offers up something very different and wholly memorable.
Movie Score: 4/5