07th Jan2019

‘Searching’ DVD Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara Sohn | Written by Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian | Directed by Aneesh Chaganty


John Cho stars in this inventively told missing person mystery that plays out entirely on computer screens. The result is a gripping and surprisingly moving thriller that shines an uncomfortable light on modern day digital interaction.

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov (who clearly has an affinity for told-through-our-screens stories, having kick-started the Unfriended horror franchise), Searching opens with an efficient and powerfully emotional montage sequence that rivals the opening of Pixar’s Up. Through a series of messages, videos and calendar appointments on a computer screen, we see various milestones in the life of the Kim family, including the birth of baby Margot (played as a teenager by Michelle La) and mother Pam (Sara Sohm) being diagnosed with, and succumbing to a terminal case of lymphoma, leaving husband David (Cho) utterly distraught.

It quickly becomes clear that we’re seeing everything through David’s computer, which is also synced to his other devices. Through various phonecalls and video chats, we learn that 16 year-old Margot is now at high school and David constantly checks up on her. However, one night, after three late-night phonecalls that go unanswered (an eerie screensaver plays on the screen while David sleeps), she goes missing. After gaining access to Margot’s social media accounts and speaking to her friends, an increasingly desperate David starts to worry that something awful has happened to her, so he files a missing persons report, which brings Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) onto the case. But the more David learns about Margot’s online activity, the more he realises he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought.

Chaganty’s masterstroke is to ground the film’s central gimmick in a compelling and relatable father-daughter relationship. This allows for a number of quietly moving moments, such as David writing and then deleting a heartfelt text to his daughter, as well as bonding us closely to David’s emotional state, so that each onscreen revelation packs a powerful punch.

The script makes clever use of several real-life websites (as well as one made-up one), subtly making the frequently memed point that who you are on Facebook isn’t necessarily who you are on Instagram or Tumblr. This observation also results in one of the film’s best blink-and-you-miss-it gags, revolving around the confirmed alibi of a potential suspect. Heightened by some impeccable editing from Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, Chaganty’s direction is extremely impressive throughout, sustaining both tension and momentum even after the central focus slips a little (first by moving to Margot’s laptop and later to screens where the identity of the viewer isn’t clear, e.g. a police report with David on screen).

Similarly, the central mystery is consistently gripping, thanks to a multitude of clever twists and turns and a few smartly handled red herrings. Chaganty is also alive to the pleasures of the mystery genre, planting several clues in plain sight and even indulging in a few cheeky in-jokes, such as a partially glimpsed background sign in a school photo that reads “Home of the Catfish” or a scroll under a news report that announces “Hollywood producer prime suspect in murder of editor”.

Cho anchors the film with a terrific, all too believable performance as the distraught dad, and there’s strong support from a cast-against-type Messing as the seen-it-all-before cop on the case, while Joseph Lee is effective as David’s pothead brother.

In short, Searching is an enjoyable and inventive thriller that delivers gut-wrenching suspense and unexpected levels of emotion, while also serving as a timely reminder to check the security of your password protection. Highly recommended.

**** 4/5

Searching is out on DVD from today, January 7th 2019, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.


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