A story about loss that takes place entirely through a computer screen doesn’t feel like it would be particularly good. Searching completely turns that thought on its head and is able to produce an above average popcorn movie that makes you happy you went to the theater.
The film centers around David Kim (played by John Cho) and his daughter Margot Kim (played by Michelle La). Specifically, it shows the two of them dealing with the loss of their matriarch, Pam Kim (played by Sara Sohn), after a battle with cancer. They play out Pam’s downfall through old home videos saved on a computer and sets the scene for the film.
The entire movie plays out through a computer screen in one way or another. Either via Facetime calls, news stories, old home videos, or Youtube videos. It all unravels bit by bit, and it doesn’t sound like it should work, but is somehow done flawlessly.
After an opening that rivals Pixar’s Up, Searching then immediately starts to grab your nerves by jumping right into the disappearance of Margot after she leaves her AP Bio study group. David finally makes sense of what happened 36 hours after the fact and contacts the police.
In enters Detective Vick (played by Debra Messing), who immediately grabs the investigation by the horns and keeps in contact with David throughout. David helps in the initial investigation by going through his daughter’s old messages and accounts. Each layer of it starts to come to light, and you can feel the anxiety through the screen. It’s a successful storytelling tool and never comes off as a gimmick.
As he peels back layer after layer, he finds out more and more about his daughter. He isn’t entirely sure what to make of it, and each revelation leads to a different path for the investigation to go down.
First-time director Aneesh Chaganty deftly deals with the script and allows for Cho to be a dynamic leading man. Messing does a serviceable job as the lead investigator, but it doesn’t feel like she matches the energy and charisma of Cho.
The film is thoroughly Cho’s, and it’s his movie from beginning to end. He brings gravitas to it, and if anyone else was the lead, it could’ve easily been taken down to B-movie schlock. It crosses genres and transcends them all very well. Similar to a versatile baseball player, it can do whatever it would like for you. That should make it into an underground hit whether it succeeds or not at the box office.
The twists and turns of Searching make it a lot of fun and allow it to feel like something new. The movie never overstays its welcome and running at a 102 minutes, it provides an effective ride. It serves as a cautionary tale and never admonishes the characters for relying on technology, making it all the more compelling.