The thriller Searching wastes no time establishing its gimmick of a design. Computer-Screen Thriller ?Searching? Is a Strong Argument for Logging Off and then pictures are opened and dragged and dropped to a folder to introduce us to the Kim family, consisting of father David (John Cho),
The movie proceeds to play out with screens, primarily the computer screen and phone of David as he FaceTimes his now 16-year-old daughter (Michelle La) and gets on her case for forgetting to bring out the garbage. The widower-teen daughter relationship, which reminded this viewer of two of the year's best movies (Eighth Grade and Leave No Trace), quickly evolves from ordinary to troubled when Margot stops answering her phone and appears to be missing.
David does what any concerned parent would do, filing a missing persons report with police and then accessing his daughter's suspiciously left behind laptop to reset her passwords and try to figure out where she could be. At the encouragement of Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), the seasoned detective assigned to the case, David digs up contact information compiled by his late wife to reach out to Margot's friends in hopes of uncovering some leads.
Instead, he discovers that he didn't really know his daughter as he finds out she hasn't been going to the piano lessons he's been giving her $100 a week for and has maintained,
Within a few days, Margot's disappearance becomes national news when her vehicle is found submerged in a lake but with no body inside. Anonymous online sleuths use comments sections to cast suspicions upon David and doubt that the girl will be recovered alive. Meanwhile, David and Rosemary do their own separate digging, checking in with one another regularly.
Searching The Austin Chronicle with this relatable palette of browser windows, tabs, texts, and social media. And though its trailer made that look like a stifling design that would feel like spending two hours of working at your computer screen, the presentation ultimately enhances the mystery in big ways, as twists arise and pay off, having been set up in the subtlest and most alluring of ways. There's even a bit of sharp humor along the way.
What Eighth Grade did for its high school-bound protagonist, Searching does for the father, immersing him in the social media and communication methods that have come to feature so prominently in most lives, particularly those of young people. It's a bold approach taken by writer-director Aneesh Chaganty, but it manages to distinguish Searching from many a lesser procedural. And though you can accuse the film of being gimmicky and manipulative, you cannot deny the fact that it is also chilling and highly touching at it unravels this supremely compelling mystery in an unprecedented manner.
Chaganty, making his feature debut after a decade of making shorts, brings the originality and freshness you want from a young filmmaker. This competent foray is reminiscent in a way of fellow Indian-American director M. Night Shyamalan's breakout sophomore effort, The Sixth Sense. Searching does not approach those lofty heights and has no chance of replicating Sixth Sense's jaw-dropping box office numbers, even unadjusted for nineteen years of inflation. But there's that important, elusive sense of you haven't seen this before that really works to its benefit in a genre full of familiar thrillers like the name-checked Gone Girl.