The opening minutes of the film “Searching” inform the viewer about the three members of the Kim family. Through a series of digital calendar entries, pictures, and video clips, the viewer is introduced to, and learns about: David Kim, portrayed by John Cho (Star Trek: Into Darkness); his daughter Margot, played in her film debut by Michelle La; and the wife and mother, Pamela (Sara Sohn), who has been diagnosed with cancer. She successfully fights it off and goes into remission for a period of time, only for it to return, and claim her life. (As an aside: The opening minutes of the film, is exactly how the remainder of “Searching” is shown to the viewer. Instead of a traditional approach to advancing the narrative, the filmmakers completely utilize digital – for example computers and Skype – to tell their story).
When the film resumes in the present day, David and 16-year-old, Margot, are both busy people; David with his work, and Margot with school, piano lessons, and study groups. While it is made known to the viewer that the two watch the singing competition television series “The Voice” together, they mainly communicate through FaceTime and text messages.
One evening, after speaking with Margot, who informs David she is going to be at an all night study session for an important upcoming test, (I immediately didn’t think that was the case), David goes to bed. He understandably thinks he will see Margot at some point during the following day. In the morning, David awakes to discover that he has several missed FaceTime calls from Margot. He also is very displeased to learn that she has still not thrown away the trash, which is piled high in the kitchen. David had specifically reminded her, that she had forgotten to do so the previous day.
David attempts to reach Margot throughout the day, without success. While he begins to grow a bit anxious, he is not yet in full panic mode; that happens when he contacts Margot’s piano teacher, Mrs. Shahinian (Sylvia Minassian); the teacher is not shown, she only speaks off camera. Margot is supposed to be at a lesson with Mrs. Shahinian, but David, much to his utter disbelief, is informed that Margot, despite the fact that David leaves her $100 a week to pay the teacher, hasn’t attended lessons in months. From that moment forward, until the film’s conclusion, the film seeks to resolve the question: What happened to Margot Kim?
David enlists the help of the police, and an investigation is opened by the ambitious and decorated, Detective Vick, played by Emmy winner Debra Messing (Will & Grace). The investigation seemingly is going nowhere. As it turns out, David discovers that the daughter, who was residing with him under the same roof of their California home, who he believed to be well-adjusted, someone who, among other things, had friends, and was dedicated to learning the piano, and dedicated to her studies, is not at all the person he thought she was.
At wits end, after contacting people David believed to be friends with Margot, David has only begun to scratch the surface of where a traditional search can go. In the world in which we live, he turns his attention to the internet, and all of the various social media platforms it has to offer. David begins to meticulously search through each of Margot’s accounts, for example, her Facebook and Tumblr. He is desperately searching for clues, and while doing so, he keeps track of the vast amount of information that he learns from Margot’s various social media contacts, on a computer spreadsheet, which he shares with Detective Vick. David goes countless hours without sleep, with only his love for his daughter, providing the much needed adrenaline for him to continue his search. He is aided, in part, by his brother Peter (Joseph Lee). I want to stop getting into any sort of plot specifics at this point. This is the type of film, where the less that is revealed about how the film moves forward from this point on, the better it will be for those of you who haven’t seen it, and would like to.
Premiering on January 21, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, “Searching” is an effective, taut, and suspenseful movie. The film marks the feature directorial debut for Aneesh Chaganty. In addition, he co-wrote the screenplay with Sev Ohanian. The 102 minute film is comprised of the genres of drama, mystery, and thriller. “Searching” is the third movie to utilize a computer screen to tell the story; the two that preceded it were “Open Windows” (2014), and “Unfriended” (2014). (As an aside: “Searching” took approximately two weeks to shoot, but the entire production, due to the manner in which it was filmed, took two years to complete).
The main selling point of the film for me was the excellent performance of John Cho. He showcases a gamut of emotions: from a disconsolate widower; to a dogged investigator, not only helping the police in their investigation to find Margot, but in essence spearheading it; to an emotionally distraught and angry individual, who feels an unfathomable betrayal has been committed against him, which again, I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t yet seen the film. For those of you who like well executed thrillers, that will keep you guessing, and offer twists until its final reveal, this is a film you will most likely find highly entertaining.