Film Review: Searching

This suspense thriller from co-writer/director Aneesh Chaganty and key producer Timur Bekmambetov plays out entirely on screens (PCs, phones and perhaps TVs), and although that might sound cold and impersonal there’s much warmth supplied by star John Cho.

Recognisable from the Harold & Kumar comedies and as young Mr. Sulu in the Star Trek prequels, Cho is terrific here, bringing a lot of heart to the dark proceedings and even giving some welcome how-to lessons about certain tricky computer issues. Furthermore, this proves to be quite the multicultural effort as well, with a Korean-American lead, an Indian-American director and a few Russian producers, yet there’s no grandstanding, despite this being understandably quite a big deal for certain audiences.

Unlike the also-onscreen but supernatural Unfriended (which takes place pretty much in real time), this begins in what must be the early 2000s with David Kim (Cho) and his wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) turning on the new family computer and documenting the years going by in a pleasing montage. Their daughter Margot starts kindergarten, school and piano lessons. They join Facebook and JPEG and AVI files reveal them having fun as a family. As compressed time flies by, there are mentions of the disease that will eventually claim Pamela’s life.

David then keeps in close contact with Margot (now played by Michelle La), who’s now in High School and, like him, struggling to deal with the loss. He and she are seen via FaceTime and sending often amusing texts to each other. Then when she doesn’t come home from a study group and he misses several calls from her late at night, he becomes increasingly concerned.

Everything is seen through screens, including the search of Margot’s bedroom and a series of calls between David and the detective on the case, Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing, also strong), and when he finally leaves the house in a mad rush, we see his progress via Google Maps and as he roams around using his mobile. Much of this is cleverly, even wittily handled, and Cho is very believable as he grows more and more panicked and angry.

Not really a new idea (look for the slightly obscure online horrors of The Den, which beat this film and the Unfriended pics by a few years) and certainly running the risk of being too gimmicky, Chaganty’s film nevertheless succeeds due to Cho’s dedicated playing and a script (by the director and Sev Ohanian) that irons out most of the improbabilities. There are also some uncomfortable glimpses of the ugly side of the internet (note how the case inspires #parentfail) and, despite the creepiness, one of the best Justin Bieber jokes seen in ages.

Rated M. Searching is in cinemas now.

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