Jon Cho is downloading every bit of information his bandwidth will allow in the first feature film from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, Searching. Playing and prevailing with the most up-to-date version of the found footage gimmick, the film sees single father David (Cho) go into a full-blown panic mode when his daughter Margot (played by Michelle La) disappears after a late night study session. With only his exceptional IT skills and a YouTube playlist to keep him going, he begins to retrace his daughter’s steps to help the assigned detective, (Debra Messing) via FaceTime calls flung back and forth as discovering Margot’s whereabouts sends them all over the interwebs.
Only in the tail end of the Paranormal Activity and most recently Unfriended has the tool of video calling and instant messaging been used to moderate success. Searching instead applies it to a more relatable horror of a missing person, and an estranged father who tries to follow the online breadcrumbs to find the daughter he didn’t know.
Highlighting just how antisocial and separate we are even with the tools to communicate, it’s still an impressive execution of how to handle every parent’s nightmare, with the internet becoming David’s best friend and his worst enemy. Pulling back the cyber-curtain, Cho’s estranged father quickly learns just how little he knew his little girl who builds the tension Chaganty gradually uploading. Frantic Google searches and examining message history helps develop the fear and redeems moments that are a bit too far-fetched. Specific steps David takes are entirely permissible (a suspect spreadsheet there, an Instagram hunt there), while occasions where David is planting several hidden cameras feel as welcome as an unwanted add-on.
Be that as it may, Cho handles the job of lead well enough. Always the relatable presence in whatever film he appears in, Searching finds him struggling when it comes to the emotional element that could be better. With cameras transfixed on his face for at least 70% of the film, there isn’t a moment where we see a father breaking down over the potential loss of his daughter, making you wonder if the parents are worth blaming on this occasion.
Debra Messing also thankfully adds a welcome input as Rosemary Vick, the detective on the case, taking control when she calls in and distracts you from questioning why these two are so rarely in the same room. Anti-social as our heroes may be, the story and setting are enough to keep you logged on until the surprisingly effective last act.