How much do parents actually know about their kids?
That seems to be the overriding question in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s clever thriller, in which single parent, David Kim (John Cho), is plunged into a world of unbearable suspense when his teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), suddenly and inexplicably goes missing. When she fails to answer the many phone calls and text messages he sends her, his only recourse is to find a way onto her social media pages and start quizzing the various ‘friends’ he finds there – only to discover that Margot doesn’t seem to have any real friends – and that the daughter he cares so much about has mysterious secrets she has been keeping from him. Why has she lied to him about attending her piano lessons? And why has she been regularly sending money to a secret bank account?
At first, Kim tries to go it alone, but when he realises that something bad has surely happened, he dutifully contacts the police and in comes Detective Vick (Debra Messing) to help him sort things out. But, just when I think that some kind of order will inevitably result from this, Kim starts making fresh discoveries – and the subsequent revelations gleefully pull the rug from under my feet, again and again.
The clever conceit of this film is that it plays out entirely on screens – not just the cinema screen, you understand, so much as computers, FaceTime calls, CCTV footage and rolling news. This kind of thing has been attempted before (perhaps most memorably in the 2014 horror movie, Unfriended), but Searching is a giant step up from that. Indeed, it’s done so ingeniously, that I find myself gasping in admiration at Chaganty’s skill as a storyteller. The opening sequence, which details the gradual demise of Kim’s wife to cancer, manages to make the changes made to an electronic calendar a profoundly moving experience. Later on, lines of text written, but then erased and substituted with something less confrontational, tell their own compelling story.
This is anything but predictable. Indeed, I find myself blindsided and sucker-punched several times during the film which keeps me on the edge of my seat right up to the very end. There are bigger movies out there right now, and the danger is that this little gem could easily get overlooked, but make no mistake: it’s quality filmmaking and well worth your time and effort. Don’t miss it.