Thriller or horror movies that are entirely or largely told on a computer/laptop screen is actually nothing new. It was a high-concept premise already been made over the last few years with the likes of (sadly underrated) The Den (2013), Open Windows (2014), Unfriended (2014) as well as this year’s Unfriended: Dark Web.
Now, joining the bandwagon is Annesh Chaganty’s Searching, which tells a nervous Korean-American father David Kim (John Cho) on a frenzied quest to locate his missing teenage daughter (Michelle La). With the help of a dedicated local detective (Debra Messing), David soon discovers that his teenage daughter’s disappearance lies a more sinister outcome.
First-time feature director Aneesh Chaganty, who used to work at Google before embarking in his dream career making short films, does an amazing job in Searching right from the beginning. The opening montage is worth noting here. It instantly reminds me of Up, where we witness David and his wife (Sara Sohn’s Pamela) alongside their then-little daughter experiencing a series of happy and sad moments. Despite the scene lasted only for a few minutes, it delivers all the necessary emotional impact that is both genuinely heartfelt and affecting — one of the prime examples on how to create a great scene using minimalist techniques.
Searching keeps me hooked for the rest of the movie and it gets better the moment David discovers his teenage daughter has gone missing. Chaganty, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Sev Ohanian, manage to maintain a consistent pace with twists and turns as well as a number of engaging moments. As David frantically go through his laptop to find Margot through her friend’s contact lists and other digital footprints such as Facebook, Gmail, YouCast and Tumblr, the scene unfolds like a page-turner of a suspense novel. The movie is so involving and has an interactive edge that enables us to play “armchair detective” with David to piece all the clues together.
The movie also benefits from John Cho’s excellent dramatic performance as David Kim. He successfully captures all the struggles, confusion and frustration that an emotionally distraught father would experience when the only child is missing. This is undoubtedly his finest performance to date as an actor.
As for the rest of the actors, Michelle La and even a minor role by Sara Sohn both provide solid supports as David’s daughter Margot and wife Pamela respectively. Debra Messing, who often associated with comedies regardless of television (Will & Grace) and movies (The Wedding Date, Nothing Like the Holidays), surprises me with her genuinely dramatic turn as Detective Rosemary Vick.
The only setback here is the ending, which I personally find it curiously cloying. But other than that, Searching succeeds as a tautly-paced thriller and a poignant drama that touches on the struggling father-daughter dynamic.