More often than not filmgoers need to be cautious with films using gimmicks. Filmmakers use a gimmick to sell their movie, and more often than not their focus on it takes away from essential aspects of their project. The film suffers, that gimmick won’t be used anymore and ultimately a unique and novel concept that could be the norm isn’t. Recently, 2016’s Hardcore Henry provided a unique perspective in that it was told entirely from the first person. It was a great idea and put audiences inside the protagonist’s head, but the herky-jerky camerawork and the unrelatable storyline and protagonist made for a dizzying experience that left people nauseous rather than entertained.

Searching is the result of writer-director Aneesh Chaganty, a former Google employee turned filmmaker. He’s added a fresh perspective to films in that his directorial debut is told using computer screens. Think about the myriad of programs you have up on your computer at any one time, add a thriller-noir storyline and an unconventional leading man and the result is Searching, an edge-of-your-seat thriller that uses its gimmick to great effect.

Starring John Cho (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle), Searching is a tale involving David Kim (Cho) and the search for his missing daughter, Margot (Michelle La). David and Margot seem to be doing well as a family despite losing their wife and mother (Sara Sohn) to cancer. One night Margot is out late with a study group and the next morning David realizes she never came home. Combined with a handful of missed calls made from Margot’s phone, David contacts the police as he fears the worst. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned the case and while she heads up the investigation and search for Margo, David is left to dig into Margot’s activities leading up to the night she went missing. By hacking into his daughter’s laptop, it’s there he realizes that he doesn’t know his daughter as well as he thought, and now his fears for his daughter are combined with helplessness as he tries to cope with where he went wrong as a father.

Chaganty, who’s been quoted as being a huge fan of M. Night Shyamalan, was clearly inspired by the filmmaker’s work while writing and directing Searching. Although computer screens and popup windows dominate the 102-minute thriller, the gimmick does not wear thin since it supports Chaganty’s story. In many ways the concept is an extension of Hardcore Henry’s first-person perspective but viewers are more invested because the perspective we’re seeing is David’s. And Cho, who has leading man charisma, is integral in selling not only the gimmick but the story, too.

David’s point of view refines Hardcore Henry’s concept because Chaganty provides a fleshed out character that’s more than one-note. David is a fully-functioning person – a concerned father who will do anything in his power to find his child. Searching already benefits from the simple fact that David can speak, an important detail which the titular Henry lacked. But more importantly, David is relatable because he’s not a cyborg (like Henry) or a superhero. He’s a typical man with typical problems who’s dealing with an incredibly difficult set of circumstances. Cho is perfect – he delivers a commanding performance that sets Searching’s tone and allows Chaganty’s gimmick to be an essential supplement rather than a story-draining focus.

Speaking of the story, Chaganty provides an interesting one that’s full of surprising plot twists (when you emulate a filmmaker like M. Night, how could one not incorporate a plot twist or two?) that take full advantage of Searching’s gimmick. I knew little of Chaganty or his film coming in, but because I knew only of the concept I was not expecting what unfolded. That made for a much better viewing experience and thus elevated Searching.

I noticed filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov was listed as a producer on Searching, and it’s important to note he also produced Hardcore Henry. With that in mind one can surmise Searching is the updated/improved draft to Hardcore Henry’s rough draft. Chaganty took the first person perspective and improved upon it by using a convincing protagonist and incorporating a relatable story with stakes that are readily identifiable. All of it adds up to an entertaining thriller that further supports the superior acting talents of John Cho (Cho is the leading man we need but do not deserve) and the thriving directing and writing talents of Aneesh Chaganty. With this pair contributing they will hopefully continue to diversify Hollywood.

4 stars out of 5


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