Searching (2018) Film Review from the 6th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival, a movie directed by Aneesh Chaganty, starring John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee and Michelle La.
In Searching David Kim (John Cho) is a single dad to Margot (Michelle La) since his wife died of Lymphoma cancer. When Margot goes missing, and 37 hours go by without any leads, David begins a frantic search using the apps on his daughters laptop, while keeping the local detective assigned to the case (Debra Messing) informed of clues he discovers.
Searching creates its suspense from two anxieties we experience since the advent of social media and cell phones: spending too much time on devices, and parents not really knowing what their kids are doing in the virtual space. Taking place entirely within computer monitors, the film draws us in emotionally thanks to the performance from John Cho. I always knew he could pull off drama, even though choices in his filmography have tended towards comedy. You really feel his grief and obsession as a single father trying to track down his missing daughter. However, I felt that Debra Messing as the detective was somewhat of a miscast. She didn’t sell me on being a detective of law enforcement.
The movie’s visuals are impressive, and I was never bored with being inside the computer screen watching David goes through all the barriers we know of to find clues as to his daughters whereabouts (password recoveries, going through his late wife’s accounts, waiting for ads to complete, etc). Chaganty does an excellent job of keeping the audience engaged in the story, which could have become mundane, thanks to the interesting visuals he employs. But the final act of the film becomes a little too predictable, tacked-on, and unnecessary. It undercuts a lot of the tension that was built up earlier in the film.
The gimmick of being set on a computer screen has been done before with the films Unfriended and Open Windows, but Searching is the first movie where you don’t even notice it’s all on a computer screen. It effectively captures the way we use devices that it just feels like a regular missing-child thriller. A solid mystery-thriller with plenty of twists, and an interesting macguffin, I’d recommend Search in a time when many films are satisfied with rinsing and repeating tired cliches. Also, John Cho should be considered for an Oscar nomination for his performance.
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