Whether you enjoy Searching or not will solely depend upon its gimmick of having been shot entirely through a PC and mobile phone’s point-of-view. It is well put together and just sits slightly above the ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking.
John Cho plays David Kim, a loving father whose wife passes away from cancer and is then left to raise his daughter Margot (Michelle La) on his own. As Margot grows up, we see the advancement in computer technology and how much we begin to rely on it, cleverly giving us a timeline on how far along we’ve come to the present day.
The film quickly kicks into gear when Margot goes missing without any hint as to how or why. It’s here David finds out more about his daughter than he was led to believe, as he’s forced to delve deeper into her personal life through various social media outlets including Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr etc., to find out if anyone who’s connected to her online may actually know her whereabouts.
It’s here David is thrown down a rabbit-hole of dead-ends as a few surprises come to light about Margot that he knew nothing about. It’s these little revelations that lead him to bigger clues and along with the help of police detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), it all becomes more real than just staring into a computer screen.
Thankfully, there are relatable moments in the film about how quickly false information can be spread on the internet, that’s used as a plot device to confuse and understandably enrage David into false pretences about the location of his daughter and who is actually involved in her disappearance.
And here lies the grey area in the film. It’s a little unclear whether director Aneesh Chaganty is using the social media gimmick as a way of saying how useful the internet is or how manipulating and intrusive it can be. Perhaps he is doing both, and points must be given for him being able to keep the viewers’ attention the entire runtime, basically from a computer screen.
Performance wise, John Cho does fine in keeping up the anticipation of finding his daughter, even though most of the time it’s from his POV searching on a PC. Debra Messing, however, is miscast as the detective on the case and the film suffers a little for it.
Searching isn’t the first film to use this gimmick, as the horror movie Unfriended (2014) (which wasn’t as half-bad as it should have been) already beat it to the punch, amongst a handful of others. Searching still manages to keep you entertained from the beginning to the end and even makes you think twice about how much you think you know about the people closest to you.
Since this movie takes place on a mock computer screen just like Unfriended (2014), there is a small nod to that movie during the very first Facebook scene: The name “Laura Barn” a character name from the movie Unfriended appears on the top right screen. It was shown very briefly.