Searching for an Original, Topical Mystery?

Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor Credit: Anna Boyle/Art Editor

You’ll find everything you’re searching for in 2018’s best thriller, Searching.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much from Searching when I first heard of it. I’d heard that it was yet another movie about a father trying to find their lost child. I’d heard that it took place almost entirely on laptop and smartphone screens. I’d heard that John Cho, most famous for Harold and Kumar and Star Trek, was the star. I was impressed that a mainstream Hollywood thriller starring an Asian-American actor even existed, but I didn’t think the tired premise could pull me in. I’ve seen the mystery play out thousands of times already, so what could Searching do that thousands of other movies, books, TV shows, games, plays, and more haven’t done before? As it turns out, a lot. A whole lot. I went in thinking it’d be mediocre; I left thinking it’s a modern classic.

Searching is a thriller, but it sets up a better mystery than any actual mystery movie I’ve ever watched. Searching is just as revolutionary as Crazy Rich Asians in terms of positive Asian representation in Hollywood movies, but far more original and captivating. I certainly loved Crazy Rich Asians, but it admittedly tread the same ground that has been trodden for decades. Searching, on the other hand, is filled with innovative ideas and plots. The main gimmick is that most of the movie takes place through screens. In a few segments of the movie, you just watch main protagonist’s David Kim’s (John Cho) mouse pointer move across the screen and click links and pictures. While such scenes may seem incredibly boring, you have to trust me. Director Aneesh Chaganty is definitely a talent to watch; some of the seemingly boring scenes are the most emotional and tense I have watched all year. Chaganty put more emotion into a dad moving his mouse pointer across the screen than some other movies where you actually see the actors’ faces.

When you first heard of this movie, you may have been thinking of a 2014 film that relied on a similar gimmick: Unfriended. I watched this movie last year, and I can say with confidence that the only reason I enjoyed it was because the majority of the movie depicted a Skype call. Without that interesting touch, Unfriended would be just another campy, overly gory slasher. That said, don’t let it dissuade you from watching Searching. Searching goes leaps and bounds beyond Unfriended in terms of advancing this burgeoning subgenre. More importantly, it would still be a fantastic movie with a spectacular plot and amazing actors, even without the social media gimmick.

Searching is the kind of movie that is hard to talk about without spoiling twenty completely different things. It’s the kind of movie where one random sentence hidden in one random corner at the very beginning of the movie foreshadows the ending. It’s the kind of movie where plot twists are layered on top of plot twists stacked on top of other plot twists. Most movies with so many twists and so much misdirection falter in the end, and, admittedly, Searching faltered a bit as well. For a movie with such a complex mystery, most of David’s discoveries actually seemed fairly believable; there was one revelation near the end that felt a little contrived, but another revelation five minutes after made up for it in spades.

With all that said, it’s probably time to actually describe the plot a bit. David Kim is somewhat estranged from his daughter, Margot Kim (Michelle La) for reasons I won’t elaborate on. He also has a bad relationship with his brother, Peter Kim (Joseph Lee). However, when Margot goes missing one night, David does everything he can to find Margot, estrangement be damned. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), a powerful and well-respected detective in the San Jose PD, helps David’s search in any way she can. And that’s pretty much all I can say without spoiling a lot. My friends and I were gasping in shock and excitement every five minutes near the end of the movie.

There’s one more important thing you should know: all the actors are fantastic. Chaganty and writer Sev Ohanian truly bring out the actors' innate potential. Searching has a lot of misdirection, but also a lot of beautiful character development and family moments. La and Lee had only appeared in the most minor of minor roles before Searching, but you wouldn’t know it from their performances. Messing and Cho are most well known for their comedic roles, but this movie allows them to flex their dramatic muscles. Chaganty has said multiple times that the part of David was written specifically for Cho, and I don’t doubt his claim at all. All in all, if you’re looking for a fresh, interesting thriller, your search can stop with Searching.