The dangers of the internet can range from cyberbullying to catfishing to the embarrassing profile photos you haven’t deleted from your early Facebook days. “Searching,” a new thriller directed by Aneesh Chaganty, plays into these widespread fears.
The entirety of "Searching" takes place on a computer screen. The opening montage, for example, is rooted in the familiar Windows XP “Bliss” wallpaper; the sunny, slightly-too-perfect blue sky and rolling green hills image. We watch through a computer screen as the Kim family grows and thrives. With “Up”-like sentimentality, we see wife Pamela’s death through a series of painful emails from doctors, photos and videos.
Pamela leaves behind her husband, David (John Cho), and teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La). The father and daughter communicate primarily and poorly over FaceTime and text. David nags Margot to take the garbage out. He types out — but doesn’t send — a message about how proud Pamela would be of their daughter. Margot rushes through a call with her father so she can return to a study session.
But Margot doesn’t return from her study group. That night, David’s monitor is woken by missed calls from Margot. A few days later, Margot is officially missing. She never returns her father’s panicked calls and texts.
With rumored superstar detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) assigned as the case's support, David begins a deep dive into the life of the daughter he raised but didn’t truly know.
Beginning with a methodical, Google Sheets-documented questioning of each of Margot’s Facebook friends, David uncovers the secrets of his daughter’s online life; a life where she mysteriously Venmo'd $2,500 to an unknown user and spent time on a livestreaming website.
Chaganty navigates this digital landscape with ease. “Searching” is underscored by driving music that heightens suspense with every click. Chaganty employs close-ups to highlight virtual clues. Others, however, stay in the background of images; see if you can catch them.
No matter how fancy the cinematography, the entire film is ultimately grounded in Cho’s performance. He’s our guide through the film, from his first texts with Margot to his heartbreaking frustration throughout the search.
We won’t spoil the film for you because it would ruin the thrill of Chaganty’s twists, turns and red herrings. But the secret of Margot’s disappearance is so much less interesting than the clues she leaves behind. As Chaganty leads us down a rabbit hole very much rooted in reality — one with Reddit threads on Margot’s disappearance and a slightly clueless father who doesn’t know what Tumblr is — we expect the outcome of the case to be concrete.
The discovery is thrilling in the moment, but it’s almost too neatly-tied-up when you take a step back to reexamine.
That’s okay though. The fun of “Searching” lies in the viewing experience, not the answers it leaves you with.
Just be sure to see it before the tech becomes obsolete.