Searching (2018)

SearchingDirector: Aneesh Chaganty
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Steven Michael Eich, Ric Sarabia, Sean O'Bryan

After losing his wife to cancer, David Kim (John Cho) is left to act as a single parent to their daughter, Margot (Michelle La). After she goes missing, David goes into his daughters laptop to find any clues as to what happened, but begins to wonder if he actually knew her at all.

For his directorial debut, Aneesh Chaganthy crafts a found footage thriller for the social media age. Taking place entirely from computer screens, this may not be the first film to utilise such a gimmick (2015's Unfriended is the popular example, but 2014's Open Windows beat them all to the punch). However, what's been delivered here is possibly the best, and most refined, example of such a practice being utilised for the screen.

This is best depicted in the films opening, as the passage of years are depicted in a flurry of pictures and videos, among other things. Through this montage, we get a strong sense of this family unit, how close they are, and all that they've been through together. We get to experience their highs, such as Margot discovering Pokémon, and cultivating her love for the piano, with their sad lows being delivered just as strongly. A calendar reminder, detailing the mother's return from the hospital, is initially a sign of hope, but as it keeps getting moved back, until being outright deleted, the sorrowful nature is superbly depicted. It's a simple opening that's wholly effective, and brings to mind the equally emotional opening from Up.

After that emotionally engaging set-up, we're given a look into how David and Margot are coping with their lives after their shared loss. As much as the former wishes to believe their relationship remains strong, he's blind to the evident struggles, and how communication between them two has disintegrated. While the gripping mystery is enticing in its own right, the strong characterisation is what drives this picture, keeping one invested, and it helps how the cast are up to the task.

John Cho works wonders with the material, capturing each facet of his character. The worry and frustration are apparent, as the unfolding case takes its toll, leaving him to act out in anger. But he's also full of regret, wishing he could've tried engaging with Margot a bit more, so they could cope with their lingering troubles together. As Detective Vick, Debra Messing does tremendous work in her role, a mother who sympathises with David, while intending to help solve the case and alleviate David's worries.

Director Chaganthy capitalises on the gimmick, utilising social media to show people capitalising off the tragic story, be it by telling bad taste jokes, pretending they were close friends with Margot, or sharing theories about the outcome. The true answer is kept close to the chest, with a few clues sprinkled throughout. But even as the final act dumps exposition to wrap things up, it isn't a problem. By this point, we've become so wrapped up in the unfolding mystery, wanting to find out how it will all turn out for these characters, that we're glued to the screen to eagerly discover how it all ends.

A gripping thriller driven by character, Searching is a parents worst nightmare, phenomenally captured from computer screens. If this is Aneesh Chaganthy's directorial debut, we hopefully have a terrific career to look forward to.