By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Now that smart phones, computers, internet and social media play such large roles in most people’s lives, it was only a matter of time before movies would follow suit. The Blumhouse horror features Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web have both attempted to use electronic media in the horror genre with mixed results. Searching, however, (in my opinion) is the first movie to use this presentation ingeniously and completely effectively as a suspenseful story tool. Writer/director Aneesh Chaganty uses phones and computers to unravel a gripping and tension-filled mystery thriller that would certainly impress Alfred Hitchcock. The writing, direction, acting and editing all come together well to create a memorable movie that is sure to wow movie audiences of various demographics.
John Cho stars as widowed father David Kim. David and his late wife Pamela (Sarah Sohn) gave birth to their daughter Margot (Michelle La) during a time when electronic media began to really take an active role in people’s lives. Now that Margot is a teenager in high school, David works hard to maintain a successful career while raising his daughter on his own. The death of Pamela has taken a toll on both husband and daughter, though, and the two seem to barely have a relationship. When Margot goes missing, David frantically searches for clues via Margot’s electronic activities and discovers there is more to his daughter’s life than he realized.
Working with co-writer Sev Ohanian, Aneesh Chaganty has put together a truly tense and riveting thrilier with Searching. Using only electronic devices to tell the story, Chaganty has taken this new trend in cinema and has made its first standout film. Chaganty uses the media effectively, builds the suspense well, and delivers plenty of genuinely unexpected twists. I have some mixed feelings about the film’s conclusion which I think weakens the overall impact. Still, the fact that the movie had me glued to my seat as a nervous wreck, compelled by these characters and their troubles, means that he did everything mostly right.
I also was particularly impressed with John Cho who really gets to stretch his dramatic chops here. Known mostly for his comedic turns and character actor work, Cho certainly shines as the beleaguered father desperately seeking his daughter. Debra Messing also impresses as Detective Rosemary Vick, the officer working on the missing person case. Joseph Lea performs solidly as David’s slackeresque brother Peter and Michelle La gives an emotional and poignant performance as Margot Kim.
So, as far as electronic media based films are concerned, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching is now the gold standard. The mix of impressive direction, skillful editing and superb performances make this a big win for the young director. With almost everyone involved to a certain degree in electronic media, this is the film which captures that experience and uses it well to tell a thrilling and relevant story.