Main cast: John Cho (David Kim), Michelle La (Margot Kim), Sara Sohn (Pamela Nam Kim), Joseph Lee (Peter Kim), Debra Messing (Detective Rosemary Vick), Steven Michael Eich (Robert Vick), and Ric Sarabia (Randy Cartoff)
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
I’m surprised no one thought of doing this sooner: an entire missing person case, with a significant chunk narrated via social media interface just like Unfriended. Not only will the movie be praised for being innovative, capturing close-ups of computer screens and such will certainly be cheaper than filming people running around in various locales. Assemble a cast of mostly unknowns and the cost of Searching is likely a pittance compared to many movies these days. I’m sure nobody is shocked that this movie has made more than enough to make its money back, and it hasn’t even hit streaming and DVD yet at the time of writing.
David Kim wakes up one morning to find his world completely shattered. Since his wife’s death, he and his daughter Margot have drifted apart. He tries to keep in close contact with her via Skype and such, but you know how kids can be – they have things to do with their friends and all, and daddy takes a backseat as a result. Well, as David slept the night before, she tried calling him three times. He assumes that she’s currently silent because she’s attending her piano class, but he soon learns that she quit a few months ago. The piano lesson fees he gave her all this while were deposited into a now-closed Venmo account. And throughout it all, he tries but keeps failing to contact Margot.
Eventually he lodges a missing persons report and, while Detective Rosemary Vick works on the case, he also gets in touch with Margot’s friends to find as much about his daughter’s activities as possible. Like most young kids, Margot has quite a number of things she has kept from her father, and as is often the case, David isn’t going to be too happy about finding out what these things are. But, could any of her “Sssh, don’t tell my father…” things be the reason for her disappearance? David is determined to find out.
Searching rides on a narrative gimmick, but that’s not to say that it is all gimmick and no substance, though. John Cho manages to bring some heart and soul into an otherwise standard missing person mystery, and it’s easy to sympathize with David. He’s not the perfect father, but honestly, no parent is. Poor David is determined to be the best father as he can be, with an added layer of poignancy stemming from how, without his wife by his side, he’s still all adrift when it comes to father-daughter relationships. Meanwhile, the pacing is tight and the whole thing is coherently put together. All in all, this is a gripping watch fueled by David’s increasing fear for his daughter’s safety as well as his rising desperation.
Alas, I’m not too pleased with the identities of the people behind Margot’s disappearance. That aspect of the story feels a bit too convenient for my liking, and then there is the resolution of the movie. Now, I like happy endings, but the happy ending here feels like some tacked-on concession to prevent the movie from being too dark and depressing. Maybe it’s just me, but this movie would have worked better if it had followed the tone and atmosphere it initially laid out, instead of making a complete 180 at the very last minute and pull a Hallmark-style ending on me. If this movie wanted to drive home the darker and more dangerous aspects of social media usage, that slapped-on resolution actually dampens the impact of that message.
Still, this is a pretty good watch. I’m not sure if I would enthusiastically tell people to rush out and watch it on the big screen, but it’s certainly worth a look when it’s available for rental or streaming.