Plot: David Kim (John Cho) has tried to do his best in the wake of his wife’s death, raising his daughter Margot (Michelle La) and helping to steer her toward great success, though she resists his encouragement in most situations. When she ignores his repeated messages one day, he is concerned, but dismisses it as her being busy or annoyed, but when she fails to come home, his worries return. He notices her laptop is still at the house, which raises the tension even more and soon he reaches out to the police, where Detective Vick (Debra Messing) has been given the case. She does what she can to track down the minimal leads, but she asks David to do some homework as well, by looking up his friends and social contacts. As he delves into her life, he realizes he didn’t know her as well as he thought and it starts to look like perhaps Margot didn’t vanish, but ran off to seek out a fresh start.
Entertainment Value: This is another installment in the found footage genre that relies on screens to carry the narrative, though unlike films like Unfriended or Friend Request, Searching makes use of a wider scope of screen sources. So instead of being stuck on a laptop, this movie unfolds over numerous screens, from laptops to phones to desktop monitors to hidden cameras, which allows for a more kinetic, immersive atmosphere, at least in my opinion. This is also a suspense thriller, rather than a horror movie, which also helps freshen up the found footage approach, since it doesn’t lean on cheap scares and shaky cam for tension. The story is familiar, but takes some nice twists and turns as it rolls out, so while most of the elements are ones we’ve seen before, it still works and the suspense is palpable. Of course, the approach taken is likely to alienate some, as it is a rather passive experience and lacks the cinematic presence of most thrillers, but I do think Searching handles the screen movie premise better than most might think. So even if you dislike found footage in most cases, this movie has a more polished, effective atmosphere and mood, so the little tweaks made to the formula pay dividends and help Searching stand out from the crowd. Fans of found footage and suspense thrillers in general should give this one a look.
The movie has a small cast and most scenes center on David Kim, so John Cho has a lot to shoulder in his lead performance here. A number of scenes even require him to act with no one to react to or bounce off, which had to be a challenge. Just reading texts or social media posts can’t be an easy source of motivation, but Cho rises to the challenge and puts in a terrific performance. I’d rank this as one of the most best, most believable turns in found footage period, as Cho makes David Kim seem real, but doesn’t fall into the usual found footage traps. He’s able to convey so much with his expressions and simple mannerisms, which are demands of the screen driven approach, as he fits so much depth into what little he is given to work with. He really shines at times as well, getting more and more remarkable as the movie progresses. Debra Messing also has a prominent role and turns in good work, though she seems somewhat limited by the nature of the footage she is utilized through. The cast also includes Michelle La, Sarah Sohn, and Joseph Lee in some of the more emphasized roles.