When his daughter goes missing, a distant father (John Cho) must unravel her sprawling online world in an incisive, unofficial investigation which provides the basis of Searching. This is a missing-person thriller which at many points feels like Prisoners remade as an Apple advert, however, thanks to solid work from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian, it’s a lot more enthralling than that may sound.
A discussion of Searching is inherently a discussion of its form; the potentially tiring tech conceit is used here not as a sugary gimmick, but as tool so integral to the fabric of its storytelling that it never feels forced. A typed-but-swiftly-deleted text message signals a rift in communication between David and Margot. The public frenzy whipped up by the case is shown through a breathless social media montage. ‘How to fight lymphoma’ typed into Google indicates the onset of a family illness, in an opening montage which plays on the heartstrings as dexterously as Pixar’s Up. Yes, this ‘computer-screen film’ is a deeply emotional one, elevated by a powerhouse John Cho performance and a fractured father-daughter relationship which feels effectively central among the film’s countless moving plot-parts.
The plot itself ultimately goes for an almost anchor-like familiarity, perhaps lacking that smack of originality the execution yields in order not to yank its audience too far off the rails. Yet, while certain twists and red-herrings may feel a bit too Hollywood, there’s a level of authenticity in Searching’s treatment of its subject matter. Like in many prior internet-focussed films, we see the online domain for all its venomous discourse, false identities and rabbit-hole toxicity. But what elevates the film is Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian’s well-rounded, nuanced approach to its subject matter. When David discovers a scarcely-viewed archive of video streams sent out by his missing daughter, we see the internet no longer just as a place of performativity, but as a space in which one can truly be oneself – the videos are raw, emotionally liberated memos with a transparency many parent-child relationships fail to achieve. Despite the narrative viewpoint of a detached father rummaging through his daughter’s profiles, Searching’s deft handling of its subject feels refreshingly far from the out-of-touch Hollywood sensationalism we’ve all come to expect.
Image Courtesy of Sony Pictures