MOVIE REVIEW: Nightmare web of intrigue in new thriller
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Running time: 102 minutes
Verdict: 3.5 STARS
It's every parent's worst nightmare: a missing child.
This wily web-based thriller, which takes place entirely on smartphone and laptop screens, uses modern technology to ramp up the tension still further.
The central character, who we get to know only through her social media representations, is patchily reconstructed on these screens within a screen.
As might be expected in such an environment, not all the personas are entirely accurate.
Margot Kim's (Michelle La) father, David (John Cho), is the amateur "detective" in the story, hacking into his daughter's laptop to discover a girl he barely knew when the official police investigation stalls.
The first dead-end is her Facebook friends, the vast majority of which, of course, are virtual acquaintances who are unable to shed much little light at all on what might have occurred.
As David doggedly retraces his daughter's digital footprint, however, a clearer picture emerges of the hours leading up to her disappearance.
Searching is an old-school detective mystery given a fresh perspective via the distancing effect of the technological devices it employs.
There are a couple of scenes in which in which the set-up feels a little contrived, but for the most part, it's chillingly effective.
The film opens with a chronological photo album of a happy family-of-three that is devastated by wife and mother Pamela Kim's (Sara Sohn) terminal cancer diagnosis.
But the real Searching begins after David notices that he has missed two late-night calls from Margot, who has failed to return home from her study group.
A sympathetic and seasoned detective, Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing). devotes her professional attention to the case - providing David with an important sounding board.
But the more he learns of Margot's secret life, the more worried he becomes.
David's impression of a busy life of friends, study and piano lessons is very different from the portrait that emerges online - of a lost and lonely teenager.
Vick's traditional, behind-the-scenes police work further complicates the picture with a fake driver's licence and an inexplicable GPS location.
This well-plotted crime puzzle has more twists and turns than a tortured colon.
The ending is a tad convenient - but by that point, you almost feel as though you have earned it.
Aneesh Chaganty's directorial debut succeeds as a compelling suspense thriller.
But perhaps Searching's biggest achievement is the way it so eloquently illustrates the gulf that can exist between a loving-if-flawed father and his struggling adolescent daughter.
SEARCHING OPENS ON THURSDAY