Tapping anxieties about parenting and technology

In tapping anxieties about parenting and technology, Searching is very much a movie of these times.
In tapping anxieties about parenting and technology, Searching is very much a movie of these times.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

REVIEW / THRILLER

SEARCHING (PG13)

103 minutes/Opens today/ 4 stars

The story: David Kim's (John Cho) 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La) has gone missing. Did she run away from home? Was she abducted? As he desperately digs into her online life for clues, he discovers things about her that he did not know and realises they have drifted apart after the death of his wife from cancer. Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is the detective on the case.

On paper, Searching does not sound like a very promising proposition. How exciting can it be to view an entire movie unfold on the screens of computers and mobile devices?

But actually, a 2015 episode had already put the "modern" in the sitcom Modern Family by taking place entirely on a character's laptop screen as she switched among video calls, Web browsers and social-media applications.

Impressive as that was, it was a 22-minute episode. Scaling up the conceit to a full-length feature film is much harder.

Is Searching gimmicky? Yes. But does it work? Absolutely.

In the first place, director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty's story is solid, with twists and turns nicely paced out to keep one hooked.

He then elevates it with an audacious storytelling style, one that makes perfect sense for the plot.

It is worth pointing out that the concept is plausibly sustained throughout. Even a key confrontation that might not be normally caught on tape was reasonably captured on hidden cameras.

 
 

Cho, from the Harold & Kumar comedies (2004, 2008 and 2011), is billed as the first Asian-American actor to headline a mainstream Hollywood thriller.

He does a fine job as he goes from being mildly annoyed at his daughter for not taking out the trash to frenzied frustration when she disappears.

An uncharacteristically plain-looking Debra Messing from the sitcom Will & Grace (1998 to 2006, 2017 to present) also leaves an impression as a no-nonsense cop.

Impressively, this is Indian-American film-maker Chaganty's directorial debut, which won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and Next Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

As David examines Margot's digital footprint, he is forced to confront an uncomfortable question: How well do I know my child?

It is a question that is more resonant than ever when kids have their own social accounts and one has no idea whom they might be interacting with. The scarier thought is, maybe they do not know either.

In tapping anxieties about parenting and technology, Searching is very much a movie of these times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2018, with the headline 'Tapping anxieties about parenting and technology'. Print Edition | Subscribe