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Blu-ray Review: Searching

December 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The choice to make a film that unfolds entirely on computer screens could seem like a gimmick, but the device is used to riveting effect in Searching, a very well executed missing person thriller that offers a hundred minutes of nerve-rattling suspense.

The film opens with a heart-wrenching and impressively edited montage made up solely of family photos, home movies and online messages stored on a family’s laptop, that introduces us to David Kim (John Cho), and shows his daughter Margot (Michelle La) growing up as his wife Pam (Sara Sohn) succumbs to terminal cancer.

When the 16-year-old Margot doesn’t come home one night, and stops responding to his messages, David desperately tries to find her, and starts searching through her hard drive and online accounts for clues. He reaches out to the police, and Detective Vick (Debra Messing) is brought on to investigate, but as the days go on, the circumstances surrounding Margot’s disappearance grow increasingly strange, and finding her seems more and more unlikely.

Did she run away? Was she abducted? Or was she involved in something far more sinister? There are clues on her computer that could suggest any combination of those options, which the film meticulously lays out for us, utilizing an inventive mix of iPhone footage, webcams, online news reports and security cameras to tell its story. The film is chock full of twists and turns, with plenty of red herrings and little clues sprinkled in along the way that serve to both deepen the mystery and to paint a compelling picture of how much of ourselves exists online.

Serving as the directorial debut of young filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, who quit his job at Google prior to making the film and is well versed in modern technology and how people interact in the digital world, Searching is most impressive for the way that it is able to build suspense through seemingly mundane things like a hovering cursor or the act of scrolling down a webpage. The filmmakers had to write every bit of text that we see onscreen as well as create all of the footage that is presented in various formats throughout the film, and it’s a wholly impressive feat, even just from a technical standpoint.

John Cho grounds the film with an excellent dramatic performance, delivering a moving portrayal of a father both trying to find his daughter while also coming to terms with the fact that maybe he didn’t really know her as well as he thought that he did. The format of the film forces Cho to do most of his acting in close ups as he peers into a webcam, which allows the actor to make full use of his facial expressions to portray the emotional arc of the character.

The film pulls the rug out from under us with a major twist right near the end, which I’m obviously not going to spoil here. While the twist does work, it’s also somewhat far-fetched and undercuts a bit of the emotional impact and gritty believability of everything that came before. Still, Searching is an incredibly effective and unique film. It works as a panic-inducing thriller that holds us in tight suspense for the entire running time, while constantly finding new and inventive ways to frame its story.

The Blu-ray also includes a filmmaker commentary track, and the three well done featurettes Searching for Easter Eggs, Changing the Language of Film, and Update Username: Cast and Characters.

Searching is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release. It’s 102 minutes and rated PG.

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