Searching begins with the unmistakable metallic skronk of a dial-up modem: the first hint that what we’re about to see will unfold almost completely in the digital world. That’s a great hook for a movie, if not the easiest one to actually sustain. But first-time filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty (a former Google employee, appropriately) is a resourceful man, and a very clever one; he nearly aces his high-wire conceit to the end.
We meet David (Star Trek’s John Cho) almost entirely through his desktop: a happily married California dad whose impending widowhood is rendered through YouTube videos, Gmail, and iCal alerts within the first 15 minutes. His wife’s death brings a cone of silence between him and his teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La); one night she says she’s staying late at study group, but the next day, she’s still not home. So with the help of a local police detective (Debra Messing), David becomes his own internet PI.
It’s a lot to carry a film where your costars are effectively zeros and ones, but Cho‘s sympathetic presence fills the screen(s); the way his eyebrows knit together like concerned caterpillars or pause for an unexpected laugh line feels like a call to Hollywood casting agents to give him more to do, soon. And if Chaganty can’t help overgilding his final twist, Searching’s smart, nimble execution still thrills. B+