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Searching (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Searching

SEARCHING (2018)

Starring John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Gabriel D. Angell, Dominic Hoffman, Connor McRaith, Briana McLean, Franchesca Maia, Thomas Barbusca, Erica Jenkins, Roy Abrahmsohn, Kristin Herold, Alex Jayne Go, Megan Liu, Kya Dawn Lau, Rasha Goel and Steven Michael Eich.

Screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian.

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.

Distributed by Screen Gems. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

A few weeks ago, I saw the movie Unfriended: Dark Web. It was a gimmicky horror film. But, it was kind of a cool gimmick; a new variation of found footage filmmaking in which an entire film takes place on the screen of a lap top, shown via Skype, Facebook, Google, etc. I remember thinking that’s a cool way of filming, too bad it wasn’t used on a better story.

Well, now it has been.

Truth is, with its horribly generic title and rather inscrutable poster, I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to watch Searching. Still, I pulled the trailer up on YouTube and was surprised to see Searching was filmed in the same style. More to the point, the grains of the plot I could pick up in that short coming attraction were not nearly as exploitative or cheesy.

Yes, Searching is still a thriller, like the other film. However, this one relies on suspense, fine acting and an intriguing mystery at the heart of the story. Also, unlike Unfriended, the story is not just a typical spook show, it feels like something that could legitimately happen in real life.

And if the final answer to the whodunit is a bit outlandish, to say the least, it is still a lot of fun getting to that conclusion.

The storyline in general is pretty simple, and yet wonderfully complex. John Cho plays David Kim, a widowed father of a high-school-aged girl named Margot (Michelle La). He loves and somewhat dotes on her, but they are both still reeling from the death of his wife/her mother Pam (Sara Sohn).

David feels like he has been there and been a good dad – and in certain ways he has – but they are both becoming isolated from each other. Then one morning, after Margot never got home from an all-night study group and David slept through two phone calls from her, David starts to realize he never really knew his daughter at all. The girl he thought was a happy, popular, hard-working student turns out to have no real friends, is somewhat depressive, and has been regularly pocketing money for weekly piano lessons that she stopped six months earlier.

David teams up with the policewoman on the case, a smart and no-nonsense missing persons expert named Detective Vick (Deborah Messing). Together they are trying to figure out whether Margot simply ran away, or if she was a victim of foul play.

What they find: The night before, Margot apparently took $2,500 out of the bank and drove off somewhere up north. But no one knows where, how, or why. Days later, she hasn’t been seen or heard from since. She hasn’t used her bank or credit card, or her cell phone. The phone has stopped pinging.

Margot also had a regular chat forum on a video chat line, in which she admits her depression and how much she misses her mother. David tries to piece together all the cyber-clues to track down his daughter.

This is the second straight terrific indie performance by Cho (he was also wonderful as the lead in the underseen film Columbus last year), who long ago left behind the Harold and Kumar stigma on his career. He’s a terrific leading man, and hopefully this will lead to more opportunities for the guy.

The only other real name in the film, Debra Messing was just fine, if a little hardened, in the role of Detective Vick. It is sort of similar to her Mysteries of Laura role – or what Grace Adler’s no-nonsense twin sister would seem like in a chiller.

Searching is the first film by former Google employee Aneesh Chaganty, and he brings his knowledge and tech savvy to the film, adding a cool new high-tech sheen to an old-fashioned parlor mystery.

And if, like I said earlier, the final reveal of the bad guy stretches credibility more than just a bit, it doesn’t undo the spell the movie has woven.

As far as the style of filming, it works pretty seamlessly until the end, in which the storyline extends so much that they have to use some security footage and news coverage, slightly breaking the rules the film had been following so successfully.

Still, Searching shows great promise for this film style, more so than the Unfriended movies. It can be done, and it can be done right. I’m looking forward to the next program.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 31, 2018.

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