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D: Aneesh Chaganty / 102m

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee, Sara Sohn, Briana McLean, Erica Jenkins, Steven Michael Eich

It’s been two years since David Kim (Cho) and his daughter, Margot (La), lost their wife and mother respectively to cancer. In those two years the pair have grown distant, with both waiting for the other to talk about what happened. Instead, David focuses on Margot’s education (she has a gift for playing the piano), while Margot tries to focus on being a normal teenager. One night, they speak via FaceTime while Margot is at a study group, and everything seems fine. Later that night, she tries to call David but he’s asleep and misses her calls. The next day, she doesn’t respond when he tries to call her back. Expecting her to be at a piano lesson after school David calls the tutor, only to learn that Margot cancelled her lessons six months before. When he finds himself unable to track her down, David calls the police and reports Margot as missing. The detective assigned to the case, Rosemary Vick (Messing) asks David to look into Margot’s background, her school life and her friends. But when he does he discovers things about his daughter that don’t make any sense, and which only make her disappearance that much more inexplicable…

Cleverly constructed from the start until the end, Searching is a mystery thriller that utilises modern technology in such a way that the movie feels – for much of its running time at least – like it hasn’t been filmed at all. Using a variety of virtual photography tricks and sleights of hand, we see the action unfold within the foreground of computer screens and other electronic devices, and against a backdrop of computer apps. Sometimes there’s so much going on on the screen that it’s hard to take it all in, but it’s all so cleverly assembled and handled that, much like reading subtitles, the eye and the brain soon compensate and pick out what’s relevant and what isn’t. David is our guide, and in Cho’s more than capable hands, we follow him willingly as he begins to piece together the various clues that go to make up the details of Margot’s disappearance. Whether he’s using FaceTime or Google or accessing photos, or trawling through Margot’s vlogs on YouCast, David takes us on a journey that is fascinating and akin to exploring a foreign country.

With the movie’s visuals broadening to include news footage (amongst others), and remaining compelling until the end, it’s a shame then that it’s all in service to a screenplay by director Chaganty and Sev Ohanian that can’t sustain the initial promise of its first hour. In amongst all the internet pages and online research that David carries out, and amid all the relevant information that Margot leaves behind (unknowingly), the script throws in a number of massively signposted clues that will have keen-eyed and -eared viewers shaking their heads in disbelief at how obvious the solution is. Up until the hour mark, Chaganty has kept the mystery elements front and centre and each twist and turn of the narrative has been smartly handled, but the need to start revealing things and head into the finishing stretch sees the movie lose momentum and its carefully assembled credibility. By the end, and a confession that sounds like the very definition of contrived, the movie has lost its way completely, and not even Cho, who is on superb form, can bring it back from the abyss it seems so set on throwing itself into. Make no mistake, this is a tense, visually arresting movie, but also one that doesn’t have a narrative that remains consistent enough throughout to match the quality of its presentation.

Rating: 7/10 – compelling and persuasive (for that first hour), Searching is a visual breath of fresh air, effectively handled and confidently displayed; a shame then that more attention couldn’t have been applied to the script, which lets down the visuals and which also hinders a terrific performance from Cho.