Review: Searching

28 August 2018

Heading into the cinema, I knew very little about the movie I was about to see. I knew two things: it was going to be about a missing daughter, it stars John Cho (#StarringJohnCho, finally.)

The screen lights up, bright white with a flashing cursor. After a beat, it decides to fulfil the audience’s anticipation, and images of David Kim (John Cho), his wife Pam (Sara Sohn), and his young daughter Margot flood in. Margot grows up in front of us: it’s her first day at kindergarten. First day of primary school. She has her first piano recital. And things are pure bliss until the reality of life hits, and Pam falls ill with cancer. Time slows down. Things get pushed back, until finally, “Mom comes home” gets deleted from the calendar.

Searching takes place within screens. As I watch Margot grow up, I can’t help but wonder when director Aneesh Chaganty will pull back the camera and show us just an ordinary movie, filmed with long shots and wide angle shots and all the other ones I don’t know about. But it never happens.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why this film is so gripping after all. After 16-year-old Margot goes missing, the audience is trapped in such a claustrophobic space where we are unable to follow lead Detective Vick’s (Debra Messing) investigation and can only wait for her facetime calls. We can only watch the live news coverage and keep watching David refresh Twitter pages frantically.

We stand in David’s shoes, and are slowly made privy to the little details in his life—he works at some sort of IT company; he likes calming piano music; his daughter always forgets to take the trash out. Even the way that he looks at his computer, with the camera bouncing around, zooming in and out of windows and text, lingering on single words and emojis, convey a surprising amount of emotional weight.

This isn’t to discredit John Cho’s performance either. Searching is ultimately about grief. David loses his wife—Margot her mother—and he isn’t about to lose his only daughter as well. When he begins digging through Margot’s computer to find clues, Cho’s face, shown through an open FaceTime, is silent, forlorn, anxious. As we are led through suspect after suspect, Cho delivers grief, anger, and denial, every step clear punch in the gut.

Searching is an incredibly smart movie. It trusts its audience, and offers up a satisfying ending. It’s a thriller, but it’s a mystery too—the screens and windows that flash by offer every clue that David needs. And because it takes place within screens, every clue that we need as well, so that everything falls into place smoothly. It definitely doesn’t hold back, and best of all, it is #StarringJohnCho.


Searching is in cinemas September 13.

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