John Cho in Searching, a 'smartly executed' hi-tech thriller

John Cho's desperate father trawls through his missing daughter's electronic devices in hi-tech thriller Searching

John Cho as David Kim in Searching
Damon Smith

SEARCHING (12A, 102 mins) Thriller.

Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Ric Sarabia.

Director: Aneesh Chaganty

Rating: 3 stars

A FATHER'S quest to track down his missing daughter unfolds in overlapping windows on a desktop computer screen in writer-director Aneesh Chaganty's smartly executed thriller.

Tapping into timely concerns about cyberbullying and social media peer pressure, Searching employs the same stylistic conceit as 2014 supernatural horror Unfriended and its sequel to test the bond between a parent and child in a 24-hour digital age where appearances can be dangerously deceptive.

Chaganty's script, co-written by Sev Ohanian, invites us to piece together evidence by following the distraught paterfamilias' cursor as he clicks on video files, initiates a video-conference call or makes several wrong guesses at his daughter's passwords.

Every second could mean the difference between the closing shot of a funeral or a tear-filled reunion and the film ratchets up suspense by drip-feeding us information that points to the teenager's fate or muddies the narrative waters.

Searching loses a little of its focus in a messy final act, which incorporates GPS tracking and TV news coverage, but by this point in the serpentine story, we are fully invested in the fractured central relationship and its resolution.

Chaganty tightly anchors our sympathy to father David Kim (John Cho) in a heartbreaking opening 10 minutes of home video footage and photographs, which chart his marriage to wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) and the birth of their daughter Margot (Michelle La).

Pamela's diagnosis with cancer galvanises the family and the Kims rally with beatific smiles as the mother goes into remission.

Alas, a second hard-fought battle ends in defeat and David struggles to articulate his grief to Margot, a gifted pianist whose filmed recitals provide a fleeting musical soundtrack to accompany the tapping of keys or clicks of a mouse.

Late one night, while he is asleep, David misses two telephone calls and a video call request from his daughter.

The next morning, Margot is missing and David's concern festers into terror.

He contacts the police and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to the case.

A trawl through Facebook and other websites reveals that the father doesn't know his little girl very well.

"It's time to start considering the possibility that she ran away," suggests Vick.

The case gains media attention and everyone with a smart device contributes to the debate using competing hashtags #FindMargot and #DadDidIt.

Searching refracts a deeply human story of loss and healing through the prism of 21st-century technology.

Cho is on screen for almost the entire 102 minutes, cleverly creating the illusion of a multi-layered investigation unfolding in real-time.

Chaganty and co-writer Ohanian hardwire the plot with satisfying twists although they tip the wink too early to one potentially lucrative line of inquiry.

We derive considerable thrills and pleasure from the characters' pain.

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