It’s a daring debut for 27-year-old ex-Google commercial creator Aneesh Chaganty. Initially meant to be an eight-minute ad for Google about a family’s history on the screen of a home computer turned into one of the more impressive movies of 2018. After realizing his vision could turn into a feature film, Chaganty quit the comfort of Google to take a chance on himself. It paid off in a major way.
I saw “Searching” Friday afternoon by myself. Well, I wasn’t exactly alone. A woman sat two rows in front of me, and she had the superb idea of bringing a blanket and what appeared to be a cheeseburger: total relaxation and comfort food. The movie has your attention right from the jump with an ode to Pixar’s “Up.” I found myself fighting the urge to shed a tear with the montage featuring a husband named David (John Cho), a wife named Pam (Sara Sohn) and Margot, the daughter, experience being a family through exclusively their home computer: the piano rehearsals, the family cooking excursions and the first days of school. Then things fall apart for the Kim family, because cancer ruins everything. The movie, just like “Unfriended,” is shown on a computer screen, which makes it such an audacious debut for Chaganty. The pictures, the videos, the quick, couple-second dialogues outline the story just right. Using the tool of a computer screen makes the story easy to follow, even though it’s unorthodox.
Margot, played by Michelle La as a teenager, goes missing on a Thursday night, but it takes her father until Saturday to realize she’s actually missing. He’s not a bad parent, maybe a bit alienated from his daughter for reasons explained later in the film, but it’s an unfortunate circumstance as to why it takes that long. Detective Rosemary Vick, played by Debra Messing, has the goal of finding Margot as she instructs David to learn more about his daughter due to his limited knowledge.
It’s a newscast that breaks the news about Margot’s death, and that’s when chaos breaks out. The outpour on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube flashes on the screen. It’s probably intentional, but how Chaganty demonstrates the relationship between society and death on the Internet rings suspiciously accurate, especially when it comes to how teenagers handle such a delicate situation. Everybody claimed to be friends with her, even though she always sat alone at lunch. Even though nobody had any idea where she possible could have gone the night she went missing. Her biology partner, who practically ignored David during an initial conversation after Margot’s disappearance, made this video that generated thousands of views about how she lost her best friend. There remains a sense of phoniness about how social media handles death, which was emphasized perfectly in the film.
There are two real twists in the movie. One happened directly before the killer releases a video admitting he killed Margot. The news then reported the killer committed suicide. The second twist comes after. It’s the first twist worth writing about since I’d rather not give away the movie. It happens with David and his brother. David finds out Margot and his brother have been talking to each other. It’s because David himself hasn’t really talked to Margot about Pam’s death. There are times during the movie where David wants to talk to her, like for instance he erases a text that read how her mother would be proud of her, because he thinks time will help heal it all. It’s a common misconception to just keep things inside, to hold it in and hope it goes away as the days pass, but that’s not a healthy way to go about anything. It’s a theme I found as the movie wrapped up.
It’s a gorgeous movie filled with messages about death, father-daughter relationships and the dangers of the Internet. It’s intense, too, with the perfect amount of tension and a pace that makes everything flow wonderfully.