August 30, 2018

GENRE | 'Searching' for John Cho on Screen(s)

"I know my daughter."
John Cho Aneesh Chaganty | Searching

In Searching, everything plays out on computer screens and devices like Unfriended (also from producer Timur Bekmambetov) or that one episode of Modern Family. First-time director Aneesh Chaganty uses this gimmicky yet very contemporary storytelling trick to slowly unfold a family drama into a crackling mystery thriller starring John Cho as an increasingly worried father looking for his missing teenage daughter.

As David Kim, Cho grounds the heavy emotions of the film's core before the mystery plot unfolds on top of itself in escalating dramatic fashion. Things reveal themselves organically on screens making all of the exposition rather seamless and natural feeling before the mystery quickly sets off.

Cho is mesmerizing looking directly into the camera using mall portals to extract a big but subtle performance. It's an essential turn of acting that shows his leading man progression beyond roles like Harold or Sulu.

Chaganty and Sev Ohanian's script has all the makings of a really satisfying episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit with the screen concept delivering information at rapid efficiency. However, as we head toward a clear set of possible resolutions, there are far too many red herrings, teases, or contrivances messing with the otherwise flowing story concept that's meticulously edited.

John Cho Debra Messing Aneesh Chaganty | Searching

In a slight turn of roles, Debra Messing as the lead detective provides a melodramatic anchor to the film's chaos. Actresses Michelle La and Sara Sohn as David's missing daughter and late wife, seen mostly in casual archival video footage, certainly feel like a real, loving Korean-American family. However, their performances by the nature of the film's plot are most effective as memories or unreliable portraits only further imparting on Cho's very active, immediate portrayal.

To keep the mystery fresh and not show its hand exactly how or why Margot went missing, Searching leaves intentional plotholes before using multiple twists to toy with our expectations before building to its messy, somewhat preposterous conclusion. Chaganty really draws out the sense of dread and the worst fears of every parent using multiple missing person theories to really emphasize internal terror.

Instead of being a cautionary tale of technology, the film fleshes out our perspectives of reality through screens It suggests their ubiquity and ever-presence inform more of our identities than we think. David learns more about his daughter and how Margot felt much more comfortable talking to strangers online than to those around her in real life.

Searching is most effective when it highlights universal experiences of family and communicating through devices. Cho and Chaganty really make the cinematic drama of a father's struggle and grief come alive despite the obvious storytelling limitations. It's a sophisticated dramatic telling of a pulpy mystery that's almost too clever for its own good.

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