What happens when one realizes that they do not know their own child? Searching answers those questions and manages to capture audiences through clicks and a blinking cursor. The film relies on the viewers willingness to go on a journey with David Kim (John Cho) to locate his sixteen year old daughter, Margot Kim (Michelle La) who goes missing. Trying to give his daughter the benefit of doubt that she will return home, David realizes as soon as he places the phone call to 911 he should have called earlier. With the case assigned to Detective Vick (Debra Messing), an urgency to find Margot, who has already been missing for 37 hours, and lends itself to an all hands on deck line of thought.
The reason audiences are so invested is we are taken on every step of the journey with David. Part of the brilliance of Searching is how we learn as much about David Kim’s daughter as he knows himself. By using home videos we see Margot grow up. We see a devoted husband and father, but more importantly we see a little girl with a good home life. Viewers are then forced to search alongside David for Margot. While the film does not play to real time, we are all alerted in what feels like real time every time the phone rings or a text message arrives or revealed.
Furthering the urgency, David begins to contact everyone who has made contact with Margot and every time new clues to update the spreadsheet with an additional phone call around each turn that David takes, or makes, from Detective Vick. We also find ourselves in a place unknown to most audiences, we find ourselves inside of not just a father’s computer, but a young woman’s computer as well. The challenges David faces within the film are played upon with these devices. Further challenges take place by David not truly understanding each social media platform Margot has placed herself on either, which complicates what is important and what details are not.
Instead of physically keeping a diary these days we have private accounts set up instead and the truth is even the imprint we leave online is not the true us most of the time. A digital footprint we leave for those people we let into our lives. Sometimes we even reveal a too much about ourselves or create a persona online that fails to match our actual lives. We chose which people to let in and on what platform. With the added complexity that most teenagers have fake accounts versus real accounts to maintain the privacy they so desperately yearn for at a young age, we learn alongside David admits that he does not really know his daughter.
However, David does know enough to know that Margot is different than most other teenagers. She has suffered the loss of her mother, a fact we leave within the opening credits of the film. A fact that makes her slightly more withdrawn than the typical teenager, which is the scariest thought of all. A teenager who maintains boundaries is one thing, a teenager who begins to lead her own life to get away from her old one is beyond frightening. Through messages, we begin to wonder what a life she has been living for the past couple of months. Is David a horrible parent?
What I enjoy the most about Searching is that embarks on the journey that the Unfriended franchise did previously in 2014 and earlier this year. The main difference is Searching does so in a manner that keeps the viewer caring about the characters involved. Instead of audiences staying glued to their own screens for an hour and a half, we are glued to the screens of David Kim and his daughter Margot. We want to know what happened to Margot. We want her found and we are not going to accept any answer and become content. With twists and turns around every corner of this unique take on what a modern day thriller should be, viewers learn that the answers we seek are right there in front of us. We just have to know where to look.
Searching is currently out in theaters.