Searching: Captivating Thriller Unfolds Entirely on a Computer Screen

John Cho plays concerned dad-turned-detective David Kim in Searching. (photo courtesy of Sundance Film Festival)

2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Asians in Hollywood. On the heels of Crazy Rich Asians, Searching is the first contemporary mainstream thriller starring an Asian-American actor. You might recognize John Cho, the shining star of this tense film, from the Harold & Kumar franchise and as Sulu in the Star Trek reboot. Cho plays David Kim, a frantic yet clear-thinking dad who’s searching for his missing daughter Margot (Michelle La). And he captivates us with his focus, determination, and meticulous methods, making the search feel equally hopeful and hopeless, and all too real.

John Cho in Searching (Sony)

The novelty of Searching is that the search takes place mostly online, with its primary character being the screen of a Mac laptop. Up-to-the-minute apps offer the window through which we follow Kim’s pursuit of Margot, trying to trace her footsteps through her social connections. If you’re wondering, like I was, how a computer screen could deliver a captivating story, trust me, it does! And I rarely punctuate with exclamation points. The action’s twists and turns never let up, as the tech-savvy Kim raids Margot’s laptop for clues to her disappearance. Racing against time, he scours Facebook posts and social media photos and videos. But rest assured, social media fluency is not required for viewers to follow the trail. The real challenge was for Cho, who was working off a blank screen, since the content displays were added later.

Kudos to 27-year-old director and writer Aneesh Chaganty of San Jose, California, who quit his dream job writing commercials at Google to collaborate with cowriter Sev Ohanian to make this movie. His previous film, a horror called Unfriended, was also staged on computer screens via Skype conversations. But Searching delivers the master stroke of genius, using socially relevant technology to explore the premise that we don’t know everything about those who are closest to us. Also starring Debra Messing (Will & Grace) and Joseph Lee (NCIS: Los Angeles), and winner of two Sundance Film Festival awards, Searching adds a digital twist to a tried-and-true genre. Be prepared for a satisfying white-knuckle experience.  A