SEARCHING (2018), a new thriller about a man named David Kim (John Cho) searching for his missing daughter, hooked me in immediately and never let go— until its ending.
The gimmick in SEARCHING is that all of its action takes place on a computer screen, which is similar to the same gimmick used in the horror movie UNFRIENDED (2014), a film I thought I would hate, but I didn’t, as I found its computer use surprisingly refreshing. I found the same here with SEARCHING. In spite of the fact that everything that happens in this movie is seen through a computer screen, it all works. I believe this is so because we are all so familiar with personal computers that looking at them for the duration of a movie seems both comfortable and natural, which I know sounds weird, but I think it’s a major reason why the tactic works.
SEARCHING opens with the familiar Windows screen from a decade ago, and in an opening computer montage, we learn all about David Kim’s family. We see footage of his daughter Margot’s first day of school, and fun videos of him and his wife raising Margot. But then things get serious as his wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) learns she has cancer, and we follow her struggle to beat back the disease, achieve a victory with a remission, only to ultimately lose the battle and die, her death depicted on a computer calendar marked with the words “Mom comes home,” the phrase copied and pasted to a later date, before it is quietly deleted.
This opening montage, completely told from images on a computer screen, emits more emotion in five minutes than a lot of traditional movies do in their entirety.
After this montage, the action settles on David communicating via Face Time to Margot (Michelle La) who is now in high school, as she’s rushing off to a study group which she says will go late. The next day, David awakes to find a couple of missed calls from his daughter. His attempts to contact her the next day go unanswered.
As the entire day and night pass without word from Margot, David suspects foul play and calls the police. He’s put in touch with Detective Vick (Debra Messing) who’s the lead detective on the case. She promises David she will do her best to locate his daughter, and what follows, as David continues to track down leads himself using his daughter’s computer, searching her contacts and friends, is a series of twists and turns that will keep audiences off-balance and guessing until the final reel.
It’s all riveting and exciting, until the end, which provided one twist too many. This final revelation is rather ludicrous and for me ruined what ultimately would have been a very credible thriller.
But before that final twist SEARCHING is a first-rate thriller.
It also has some things to say about families and computer use. David is shocked to learn once he starts looking into his daughter’s contacts that he really didn’t know his daughter, that there was so much in her life that they never talked about. The film serves as a nice reminder for parents to remember to take the time to talk to their kids.
David is able to learn so much about his daughter once he starts searching her computer because everything is recorded. That’s one of the more fascinating parts to the story, that he can learn as much as he does by researching Margot’s online connections. The electronic stamp we leave with our online use is both fascinating and somewhat scary.
John Cho gets most of the screen time in this one as frantic father David Kim, and Cho is more than up to the task of carrying this movie. He’s excellent throughout. We get to see a lot of emotions from David, from when he first fears his daughter is missing, to learning that she probably ran away, which goes against everything he knows about her, to other evidence which supports foul play.
Cho, who plays Sulu in the new STAR TREK movies, and who played Harold in the silly HAROLD & KUMAR movies delivers a top-notch dramatic performance here.
Michelle La is also very good as Margot, although since her character is missing she’s really not in the movie all that much and makes less of an impact that Cho.
As Detective Vick, Debra Messing, who plays Grace on TV’s WILL AND GRACE (1998-2018), is okay, but there was something grating about her character. The film continually hammers the point home that for Vick family is everything, and so she is extra driven to help David find his daughter.
A stronger performance was turned in by Joseph Lee as David’s brother Peter, who like any good brother is there for David both as support and to help search for Margot. Until there are some sketchy revelations regarding Peter that suddenly cause David to question his brother’s character.
Director Aneesh Chaganty has made a very entertaining thriller. I really enjoyed its creative style of storytelling by only showing events on computer screens. This gimmick didn’t detract from the story at all. On the contrary, it somehow made it even more compelling.
Chaganty also wrote the screenplay with Sev Ohanian, and it’s a good one. The mystery of Margot’s disappearance is strong, the characters three-dimensional and fleshed out, and the dialogue very sharp. I completely bought David’s relationship with his daughter, and it played out like an authentic father-teen daughter relationship.
I also enjoyed the various twists and turns this one had to offer.
Except for the last one.
Just how bad was that last twist?
It was so bad. How bad was it?
It was so bad it came close to ruining the entire movie for me. It didn’t. But it came oh so close.
It reminded me, for those of us who used to watch soap operas back in the day, of one of those really bad soap opera plots. You know the ones I’m talking about. Where someone disappears and the clues lead everywhere, and then there’s that one person who should be the last person who is a suspect, but since this is a soap opera where anything is possible, it turns out that yes, that’s the person who committed the crime!
It’s one of the more ridiculous endings to a movie I’ve seen in a while, which is too bad, because everything that came before it was pretty darn good.
All in all, I enjoyed SEARCHING. It held my interest throughout, all the way to its very disappointing ending, where it offered one twist too many, a twist that comes oh so close to ruining all that came before it.
If only the writers had spent more time searching for a better ending.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.