SEARCHING Review: 8 out of 10 (Mystery by Media)
SEARCHING is the latest mystery thriller to hit theaters and is directed by Aneesh Chaganty. The plot follows a father (John Cho) trying to find his missing 16-year-old daughter (Michelle La) with the help of a police detective (Debra Messing). The film is told in a unique way, shot from the point-of-view of smartphones and computer screens and news footage. The result is certainly compelling and engaging, since it is a medium that we all engage with daily. However, the entire narrative unfolds in this way, amping up the idea of we, the audience, being sort of voyeurs into the lives of those in the film. This type of film has been done before. This film’s producer created UNFRIENDED and its sequel told in same fashion. However, rather than attempting jump scares and a fearful element, SEARCHING relies on familiar technology set in a fairly realistic context to raise anxiety and increase tension.
John Cho stars as David Kim—a single father raising his teen daughter Margot. When she disappears one night without a trace, David relies on her facebook account, text messages, and other clues in his daughter’s digital footprint in an effort to track her down. There are several moments where the film plays with the ideas of so many other true crime stories that have become popular in the last five years or so. In one moment, it seems the truth is clear—but more evidence shows that the path that David is on is a dead end. Most mystery thriller films expect the audience to be dumb—to lay back and just coast through the plot—many times which results in nonsensical solutions, red herrings, and a final reveal that absolutely makes no sense if any critical weight is put to it. SEARCHING however, does the opposite. It actually rewards intelligent audience members. With all the clues on display on screen, we the audience see exactly what David Kim sees. There is nearly a sense that we are sleuthing and thinking and considering the evidence alongside him. And if one is really clever, SEARCHING actually rewards the smart viewer with a few “A-Ha!” moments that are gratifying. And John Cho is fantastic here in a performance that must have been a challenge from an acting perspective.
To say any more about this film is likely to reveal too much of its own strongest element—that is how the story unravels. And though the initial look of the film via texts, computer screens, FaceTime videos, and News footage looks like a long commercial for Apple products, it also allows the audience an instant relatability to the experiences of its characters. If you are looking at a fresh new thriller to see this weekend, SEARCHING may not have been on your radar before, but it certainly should be now.