Search­ing takes a few too many turns

The Niagara Falls Review - - Arts & Life - KATIE WALSH

Per­haps “Search­ing” would feel more rev­o­lu­tion­ary had “Un­friended: Dark Web” not been so re­cently re­leased. The two films take for their con­ceit and style the re­al­ity that these days, we live our lives on­line, and there­fore, the en­tirety of the cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence never leaves the com­puter screen. While the “Un­friended” series ap­plies the tech­nique to B-movie hor­ror frights, “Search­ing,” di­rected by Aneesh Cha­ganty and writ­ten by Cha­ganty and Sev Oha­nian, at­tempts to el­e­vate it to some­thing more so­phis­ti­cated: a dra­matic thriller, the story of a man look­ing for his miss­ing daugh­ter.

David Kim (John Cho), a wid­ower in San Jose, Calif., has a ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ship with his daugh­ter Mar­got (Michelle La), a hard­work­ing high school sopho­more. Both are caught up in their own pools of grief af­ter the death of Mar­got’s mother, Pam, out­lined in a di­a­logue-free open­ing se­quence rem­i­nis­cent of the tragic open­ing of Pixar’s “Up.” A life and a death are de­tailed on a com­puter screen through pho­tos, cal­en­dar dates and videos.

David and Mar­got are teth­ered via tech­nol­ogy, but one day, Mar­got’s dig­i­tal pres­ence slowly fades away, un­til it’s not just a dead bat­tery or bad re­cep­tion but a miss­ing per­son. The search for Mar­got is on, as David be­comes in­creas­ingly fran­tic, comb­ing her com­puter for any clues about where his daugh­ter might be, and more im­por­tantly, who she is.

The act­ing re­quired for a film that pri­mar­ily takes place on FaceTime and YouTube is of the ca­sual, lived-in va­ri­ety. There’s no pro­ject­ing for the back of the house into a we­b­cam, and it’s a

tough bal­ance to achieve for a per­former, who has to in­habit and ex­press all the emo­tions in a com­pletely nat­u­ral and or­ganic way. For­tu­nately, Cho is up to the task of car­ry­ing a film that re­quires him to au­then­ti­cally emote into a MacBook cam­era.

That’s not so with his co-star, De­bra Mess­ing, who plays Det. Vick, lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Whether seated at a desk video chat­ting with David, or fran­ti­cally FaceTim­ing when they dis­cover a new clue, one can feel Mess­ing ef­fort­fully act­ing with a cap­i­tal A, rather than nat­u­ral­is­ti­cally per­form­ing the in­ter­ac­tions a po­lice de­tec­tive would have with tech.

It’s a stan­dard miss­ing per­son story, but the use of tech­nol­ogy demon­strates how we’re at once con­stantly con­nected in a way that al­lows us to be en­tirely dis­con­nected. Who needs face-to­face time when there’s FaceTime? Pho­tos can be ma­nip­u­lated or ap­plied to other nar­ra­tives. Tech­nol­ogy al­lows us to see ev­ery­thing, and also noth­ing, if the story is twisted in the right way.

What’s bone chill­ing about “Search­ing” is how it lays out the way the truth can be right in front of us. We just have to be will­ing to look, and to see it. The film takes the au­di­ence on a wild ride of twists and turns; images and words can be ma­nip­u­lated into mul­ti­ple com­pet­ing truths.

But the film does take a few too many turns on its jour­ney. The end feels rushed, out­landish and pos­si­bly even reshot, de­stroy­ing the ap­par­ent time­line of the en­tire film with a few lines, and up­end­ing all sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief. It’s clearly in­tended to leave us feel­ing OK, rather than filled with dread, but it’s a hack­neyed and ob­vi­ous at­tempt to make the film some­thing that it’s not. For all the in­ter­est­ing ideas and slick ex­e­cu­tion that “Search­ing” raises, it’s a dis­ap­point­ment that it doesn’t stick to its guns.

EL­IZ­A­BETH KITCHENS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Joseph Lee, left, and John Cho in "Search­ing." Cho stars as a fa­ther try­ing to find his miss­ing teenage daugh­ter.

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