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We’ve seen this gimmick before: the high-wire act of setting a movie entirely within the confines of electronic devices, allowing us to feel as if we’re logging in, clicking and typing along with the characters in real time. The 2015 horror flick “ Unfriended ,” for example, pulled off this feat in lively, detailed and eventually grisly ways; before that, the 2014 Elijah Wood thriller “ Open Windows ” tried this trick with less success. 

Structuring a film this way is impressive as an ambitious screenwriting exercise, if nothing else. It also gives filmmakers the opportunity to embrace technology while simultaneously making a point about the way it transfixes us and turns us into zombies. The sensation allows us to identify with these characters as they make the same kinds of decisions we would and multitask with a variety of windows and websites open at the same time. We are them and they are us and everyone needs to put down the phone or close up the laptop and go for a walk in the outside world—or at least set our devices to airplane mode and turn the ringer off, if only for a little while.

With “Searching,” director Aneesh Chaganty and his co-writer, Sev Ohanian adhere to their central conceit in ways that are consistently clever, yet ultimately wander a bit astray. But what sets their film apart from others of its ilk is its dramatic underpinning. “Searching”—a title that has double meaning—follows a panicked father’s online moves as he tries to track down his missing teenage daughter. It aims for and earns genuine emotion rather than cheap thrills.

The ever-versatile John Cho shows great range and takes us on an intimate, gripping journey as David Kim, a widower raising his 16-year-old daughter, Margot ( Michelle La , in her first major role), in suburban San Jose, Calif. In sort of a high-tech version of the devastating, wordless opening of “ Up ,” we see David and his wife Pamela ( Sara Sohn ) raising Margot over the years through a series of photos, videos and calendar entries. (In a nice touch, fonts and graphics change as technology evolves and improves.) “Searching” smoothly and efficiently depicts the passage of time, including Pamela's cancer battle. The film handles the tragedy of her passing with quiet poignancy.

In the present day, David and Margot live busy lives between work and school, and they mostly communicate through text messages and FaceTime calls. But one night, the usually conscientious Margot fails to come home after a study group session, something David doesn’t realize until well into the next day. And here’s where the intricacies of the technology have such an impact: We can see all those unanswered text messages from him just sitting there, ominously, lined up in a long, green column. We can see the time stamp of the last phone call Margot made to him in the middle of the night. We can feel David’s fear growing because ours is, too.

“Searching” takes a series of twists and turns from here as David contacts police and a full-blown effort begins to find Margot. There’s a lot you’re going to want to experience on your own, so I hesitate to describe too much more. But over and over again, Chaganty and Ohanian find innovative avenues into the laptop setting they’ve established, from David working backward to determine Margot’s locked social media passwords to the spreadsheet he creates to interrogate her friends about her whereabouts. Through it all, he remains methodical, but his rising anxiety is inescapable. Cho spends a lot of time in medium shot or close-up in a split screen with whatever he’s working on, so there’s nowhere for him to hide. We see everything his character is feeling, as he’s feeling it. It’s a startling experience, as if we’re spying on him at his most vulnerable.

The arrival of a determined Debra Messing as the police detective investigating Margot’s disappearance changes the film’s energy, providing a ray of hope. (David naturally looks up her character, Det. Rosemary Vick, on Google and Facebook the first time she calls him, seeking traces of trustworthiness.) But the more they uncover together, from Margot’s secret Tumblr posts to the last place her car was seen, the more David realizes he didn’t really know his only child. It’s the sad paradox of technology, a tool that’s meant to bring people closer together, that it also can foster such a divide. Not the most novel concept, perhaps, but one that “Searching” explores in smart, slickly paced ways.

But as the film pulses toward its conclusion, it introduces images and information that deviate from the premise that we’re seeing everything from David’s perspective. A narrative omniscience occurs that fills in some holes, but it also results in a loss of tautness and focus. (I do appreciate that the filmmakers got the geography of the Bay Area correct, though, as well as the mic flags of the local TV stations breathlessly covering every development of the search effort.) ‘Til the end, though, we’re deeply invested in these well-drawn characters, and whether they’ll find their happy ending both online and IRL.

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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Searching movie poster

Searching (2018)

Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for language.

102 minutes

John Cho as David Kim

Debra Messing as Detective Rosemary Vick

Joseph Lee as Peter

Michelle La as Margot

  • Aneesh Chaganty
  • Sev Ohanian


  • Juan Sebastian Baron

Cinematographer (director of virtual photography)

  • Nicholas D. Johnson
  • Will Merrick
  • Torin Borrowdale

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Review: In ‘Searching,’ a Clever Conceit and John Cho as Leading Man

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‘Searching’ | Anatomy of a Scene

Aneesh chaganty narrates a sequence from his film..

“Hi. My name is Aneesh Chaganty. I’m the co-writer and director of ‘Searching.’” “Hey, Margo. Dad again.” “So the scene that you’re watching right now takes place early in the film. The film is about a dad whose daughter goes missing, and he tries to look for clues to find her. The entire film takes place on the tech devices that we use everyday to communicate. That’s laptops, cell phones, desktop computers. Basically every single tool that we use every day is a tool that we use to tell the story. In this moment right now he is realizing that his daughter might actually be in piano classes that she goes to every Friday. So he’s going to try and find out how to reach her there. The trick to kind of tackling this movie was basically by not making it boring. That was a huge thing that we talked about all the time. Like how do we elevate this concept? How do we make it feel like a capital M movie and not just a gimmick of a film that was lasting for 90 minutes? So from day one, in order to solve that we basically realized that what we should be doing is by using every single cinematic trick that we feel like we’ve learned, and that has been developed over the last 100 years, whether that’s a camera push in, or a dolly, or a lens flare, or just a narrative trick. If it was figured out before us, let’s apply it to this screen. And we figured if we take these small, mundane devices that we use everyday to communicate, and apply all these cinematic tricks to it, we will be making something, hopefully, that feels like something that you’ve never seen before. So this particular moment David is finding out that his daughter not only has not been going to piano classes the last few weeks, but actually canceled her classes months ago. And it’s the beginning of him realizing that his daughter is actually not at all the person that he thought she was. So he’s looking at these messages right now. We’re kind of panning back and forth. We’re punching in. And we’re kind of mixing live action footage and animated footage in a way that feels hopefully seamless for an audience, to hopefully give them a very, very cinematic experience on a platform that I don’t think any of us, including us, the writers and the filmmakers, originally thought was possible. But it’s why we’ve made this movie, because when we realized we could pull it off, we thought, hey, wouldn’t it be a really, really cool experience for an audience if we did?”

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By Aisha Harris

  • Aug. 23, 2018

At its core, “Searching” is like any number of thrillers about tracking down a missing person: John Cho plays David Kim, a single father whose teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) doesn’t come home one night or make it to school the following morning. Distraught, David combs through the trail of her online presence and passes along findings to Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), the lead detective on the case. Days go by and the clues don’t turn up Margot, but they are revealing: David learns he does not know as much about her as he once thought. He takes things into his own hands, suspicious of those around him and increasingly unsatisfied with Vick’s investigation.

searching movie review

What sets Aneesh Chaganty’s feature debut apart is its meticulously constructed storytelling device, which calls to mind “Unfriended (2014),” the horror film about a group of teenagers whose video chat is interrupted by the presence of an online phantom, and its sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web,” released earlier this summer. Every shot of “Searching” plays out on a screen — a computer, a phone, through the lens of a clandestinely placed camera.

It mostly works: It unveils a clever approach to character building, as during the opening montage of family photos, home videos and emails providing intimate details about the Kim family over several years. Occasionally, the effort to commit fully to the conceit feels strained or shows its limitations, as when a grainy camera recording from a distance undercuts the intensity of a particularly dramatic confrontation.

Throughout, David’s emotional journey feels wholly tangible — many of Mr. Cho’s scenes involve him interacting with other actors on FaceTime, yet he deeply inhabits his character’s distress and still-unprocessed grief over a different kind of loss chronicled in the film’s first few minutes. While a somewhat silly reveal in the final act feels ripped from a “Law & Order” episode, the combination of clever concept reflecting the prevalence of screens in everyday life, and the pleasure of watching a typically underused Mr. Cho take on a meaty lead role make “Searching” a satisfying psychological thriller.

Rated PG-13 for suggestive language and drug references involving teenagers. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes.

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John Cho in Searching, which takes place entirely on smartphone and laptop screens.

Searching review – a hi-tech mystery without its finger on the button

A father looks for his missing daughter by trawling through her laptop

W hen David Kim (John Cho) awakes to multiple missed FaceTime calls from his teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), he calls the police and opens a missing-persons case led by Debra Messing’s Detective Rosemary Vick. Together, they comb Margot’s MacBook and search history (conveniently left at home), looking for clues.

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov ( Unfriended , Profile ), Aneesh Chaganty’s directorial debut is a tense thriller that takes place entirely across smartphone and laptop screens. It’s a clever conceit that creates an uneasy sense of voyeurism; people’s devices are deeply private, so there’s something sleazily exciting in trawling through Margot’s computer with David.

A shame, then, that the film plays as though it was written by an adult who doesn’t understand how teenagers use the internet. Facebook, Tumblr, Venmo and livestreaming platform YouCast are all name-checked, but the film doesn’t have a good grasp on basic technology. Why, for example, is David FaceTiming his daughter while on 12% battery?

The film doesn’t understand what mode it wants to operate in; serious thriller with emotional stakes or contrived, cynical satire (a set piece around a Twitter hashtag seems to suggest the latter).

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Searching Reviews

searching movie review

Searching is an unnerving and touching movie that goes well beyond the gimmick of being told through a computer screen.

Full Review | Feb 1, 2024

searching movie review

A tremendously unique style of filmmaking elevates an almost seamlessly written mystery, containing constant twists and puzzling clues that leave the audience captivated throughout the entire runtime.

Full Review | Original Score: A | Jul 24, 2023

If you like suspense movies, innovation, and John Cho you do not want to miss the movie.

Full Review | Original Score: 10/10 | Jan 17, 2023

searching movie review

A mystery that’s far meatier than its virtual framing would suggest.

Full Review | Sep 14, 2022

searching movie review

It’s a riveting thriller with interesting things to say about the online lives we live. It’s also another showcase for John Cho who carries the film through his character’s intensifying stages of emotion and desperation.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Aug 25, 2022

searching movie review

Chaganty's unsubtle approach broadcasts every clue, relying on a tired formula where every detail onscreen proves significant in a dull way. Attentive viewers will see the twists coming.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/4 | Mar 11, 2022

searching movie review

Here's hoping future films in this new mode of storytelling take note from what Searching does so well and avoid what doesn't exactly mesh.

Full Review | Feb 11, 2022

searching movie review

Episode 6: Bourbon and Smoke

Full Review | Original Score: 50/100 | Aug 28, 2021

searching movie review

This is screenwriting at its finest. The film just gives you one emotional punch after the next the suspense just builds and builds as more details about the mystery are revealed.

Full Review | Original Score: 9.5/10 | Aug 17, 2021

searching movie review

Searching is a clarion call for any parent of a teen...

Full Review | Aug 13, 2021

searching movie review

It's a little too conventional in its climax and conclusion but John Cho's terrific performance and some genuine thrills elevate the story past its visual gimmick.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/5 | Mar 4, 2021

searching movie review

Ultimately, it's among the very best of this genre of computer screen thrillers, and I'll leave it up to you to decide how much you think that means.

Full Review | Feb 9, 2021

searching movie review

David Kim discovers that his 16-year-old daughter Margot didn't come home after a study session, and he searches her laptop and social media to find her.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Feb 2, 2021

searching movie review

A concept that easily could have come across as cheap and tacky instead elevates Searching in ways that are exciting and surprisingly moving.

Full Review | Original Score: B+ | Jan 29, 2021

searching movie review

Sometimes, your expectations for a film can enrich your experience or cripple it. With Searching, I was thrown for a loop in the best way.

Full Review | Nov 10, 2020

searching movie review

Searching is both an immersive and ingenious experience and because it is Aneesh Chaganty's directorial debut, one could only hope that he's got even more creative ideas on the horizon.

Full Review | Oct 5, 2020

searching movie review

Searching is unlike any modern thriller I've seen, and actually knows how to do social media and the online world right, without being gimmicky.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/5 | Aug 3, 2020

searching movie review

What places Searching a cut above the average thrillers filling the multiplex every weekend is the resonance of the relationship between David and Margot.

Full Review | Jul 24, 2020

searching movie review

Centered on a solid performance from John Cho and sporting an appropriately silly sense of humor, this techno-thriller may not be high art, but it's a brisk, economical jaunt.

Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/5 | Jul 24, 2020

searching movie review

This is a tremendous debut from Chaganty, Ohanian, and their team. They took the act of looking at a screen and turned it into a first rate thriller for the modern age.

Full Review | Original Score: A- | Jul 9, 2020

  • Entertainment /

The emotional thriller Searching proves good computer-screen movies aren’t a fluke

The producer of unfriended returns with a movie that proves there’s life left in this formula.

By Bryan Bishop

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searching movie review

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special event releases. This review was originally posted after the film’s premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it played under the title Search . It has been updated for the film’s wide theatrical release.

In 2015, the movie Unfriended landed in theaters , telling a conventional supernatural revenge story with an unconventional conceit: the entire film took place on the screen of one character’s laptop. That approach really shouldn’t have worked, but Unfriended was nevertheless a creepy, unsettling, low-budget success. When I spoke with producer Timur Bekmambetov at the time, he envisioned “screen movies” as an entire genre.

The filmmaker is taking his next big swing at the format with Searching, starring Star Trek ’s John Cho and Will & Grace ’s Debra Messing. It’s the story of a father who frantically tries to find his daughter when she goes missing — only this time, the film doesn’t just take place on a single laptop. It takes place on the screens of multiple computers, with an iPhone thrown into the mix for good measure. Once again, this is an idea that shouldn’t work. But Searching is a taut, surprisingly emotional ride. It doesn’t entirely stick the landing, but it’s proof the screen-movie concept isn’t just a one-off fluke.

What’s the genre?

Bekmambetov might have described it as “a screen movie” a couple of years ago, but now, Searching can just be considered a straight-up thriller.

What’s it about?

David Kim (Cho) is recently widowed, and he’s been having a hard time connecting with his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La). One morning, David wakes up to find he’s missed several late-night FaceTime calls from Margot. As the day unfolds, he discovers she’s not at school, and never even came home the night before. Detective Rosemary Vick (Messing) is assigned to the case, and with her help, David begins digging through his daughter’s computer, her search history, and the live-streaming services he never knew she used. They initially suspect she might have simply run away, but as the evidence piles up, it seems likely that something sinister has happened to Margot.

What’s it really about?

Director Aneesh Chaganty, who co-wrote the script with producer Sev Ohanian, has a couple of themes on his mind with Searching . Writ large, it’s a movie about the way we deal with grief. David shut down emotionally in response to his wife's death, compartmentalizing his memories to the point of forgetting her birthday, and hiding any videos that might spark painful memories from his computer’s search results. While he thinks Margot has been doing okay, as he investigates, he slowly realizes she has been struggling more than he ever realized.

Searching also illustrates how we sometimes use online outlets and social networks to express feelings that would perhaps be better discussed in real life. Margot is comfortable talking about her mom to anonymous strangers on a video chat, but doesn’t want to bring up the issue with her own father, which pushes them further and further apart.

Is it good?

Searching is shockingly effective, not just in creating a sense of constant, palpable tension, but also in the way it pulls off authentic, effective emotional beats. The first five minutes of the film tell the entire backstory of the Kim family, opening with the mom’s computer (running Windows XP) as the family starts documenting Margot’s young life. Through video clips, glimpses of emails, and calendar schedules, we learn that in the ensuing years, Margot’s mother got cancer, fought it into remission, suffered a relapse, and finally succumbed just as Margot was about to start high school. It’s legitimately affecting. (Think the opening prologue of Pixar’s Up , only told through a computer screen.) By the time Searching catches up with the present, and the iMac the family uses at home, the movie has set up an emotional foundation that propels the rest of the film.

the fact that we’re watching an ersatz computer screen falls away completely

As a filmmaker, Chaganty knows a few things about merging technology with filmmaking. He shot an early Google Glass commercial called “Seeds,” and was responsible for some of the snarky ads for Google Photos . But here, he moves beyond those early experiments, and what was accomplished in previous computer screen projects like Unfriended or the Modern Family episode “Connection Lost.” Searching ’s rhythm and pacing stand out, from the way the camera punches in and moves around computer screens to the way it creatively adds new angles to the mix, while still adhering to its basic conceit. More often than not, the fact that we’re watching an ersatz computer screen falls away completely, leaving only the drama of David’s search. It feels impressively cinematic, which is no small feat, given the stylistic limitations. Cho also delivers a strong performance, capturing the denial, grief, and anger David experiences as the situation with his daughter becomes increasingly more dire.

The film does have its flaws. Messing’s performance seems out of sync with the rest of the actors at times, as if she’s playing scenes from a much more melodramatic TV show. (The script does give her character some of the clunkiest lines, so there’s only so much she can do.) And while Searching has several moments where it feels like things are wrapping up in a truly unexpected, yet emotionally satisfying way, the film unfortunately doesn’t know when to call it quits. It finally comes to a conclusion with an extended coda that really tests the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and while the movie ultimately delivers a final moment that some audiences will definitely be craving, the way it gets there is easily the weakest part of the film.

What should it be rated?

Searching through Facebook, creating Google Docs, and making FaceTime calls is pretty family-friendly. Let’s call this a PG, given the general subject matter.

How can I actually watch it?

After the world premiere screening at Sundance, Sony picked up the movie for a reported $5 million, and brought it to theaters for a wide release. It’s out on August 24th.

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‘Searching’ Review: High-Tech Thriller Delivers Old-Fashioned Chills

By Peter Travers

Peter Travers

Solving the case of a missing teen solely through the latest technology. It sounds like a gimmick that’s impossible to sustain over 90-plus minutes (remember 2015’s Unfriended ?). But director Aneesh Chaganty, in an exceptional feature debut, does the impossible, building a high-voltage, white-knuckle thriller told almost exclusively through smartphones, laptop screens, browser windows and surveillance footage. Searching is a technical marvel with a beating heart at its core, which makes all the difference.

John Cho (yup, Kumar’s buddy Harold) excels as David Kim, a widower living in San Jose, California, whose 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La) hasn’t come home or answered his texts. Has she been catfished, kidnapped, even murdered? Did she take her own life? Enter Detective Rosemary Vick (a terrific Debra Messing), an expert in such cases who knows the advantages of keeping a Facebook camera on at all times. YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, text and video messages also find their way into the mystery, as frantic father and hard-nosed cop hack Margot’s computer (a teen’s worst nightmare) and text her friends trying to piece together her whereabouts and hopefully save her life. Chaganty expertly uses Margot’s video library to reveal a stable day-to-day existence that fell apart when her mother died of lymphoma. What was David’s seemingly popular daughter doing on the dark web with strangers?

The suspense intensifies as dad and detective probe into secrets Margot meant only to keep to herself. David contacts his pothead brother, Peter (Joseph Lee), and a piano teacher who reveals she hasn’t seen Margot in six months. And is Rosemary telling him everything she knows? #FindMargot goes viral, with classmates pretending to be her bestie and haters starting the campaign #DadDidIt. Meanwhile, David goes rogue, installing hidden cameras in the homes of suspects. And we wait… until a trip to a nearby lake (thank you, GPS) turns up concrete clues. Even when more conventional storytelling elements intrude on the plot near the end, they’re not enough to dent the ratcheting momentum. In tandem with co-writer Sev Ohanian and wizard editors Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, Chaganty keeps the movie sparking with twists the audience never sees coming. Do we pay a price for living our lives on screens? Is the price worth it? As it should, Searching leaves you with questions that’ll keep you up at night.

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“Searching,” Reviewed: A Lifeless Thriller Plays Out on a Computer Screen

searching movie review

By Richard Brody

John Cho appears on a cluttered computer screen.

If it weren’t for the technical gimmickry of “Searching,” a new thriller directed by Aneesh Chaganty (who co-wrote it with Sev Ohanian), it might never have been made. The story follows the familiar path of a widowed father, David Kim (John Cho), a prosperous Silicon Valley engineer, whose fifteen-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La), goes missing after a nighttime study session. After contacting the police, he’s advised by the investigating officer, Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), to take part in the search, and he does so by rummaging through the contacts on her laptop computer, questioning people she knows, and uncovering aspects of her life that she had kept hidden from him and that may have played a role in her disappearance.

The gimmick is that the entire action of the film takes place on—or, rather, is seen on—computer screens. The movie opens with a view of a generic-landscape screen saver and a cursor; the action begins with that computer playing a long video montage of scenes from Margot’s life, from birth through adolescence, and including the details of the death of her mother, Pamela Nam Kim (Sara Sohn), a sentimental fridging that’s only the first in a series of clichés. Before her disappearance, Margot communicates with her father by FaceTime and text message, and Chaganty’s approach to computer-screen interaction betrays his own classical cinematic inclination. He doesn’t use the camera to merely imitate the frozen gaze of one computer user; he cuts to closeups of particular text messages and video windows, turning many computer-screen dialogue scenes into a conventional series of alternating talking heads.

In this regard, “Searching” differs from the recently released computer-centric thriller “ Unfriended: Dark Web ,” in which the action unfolds in a continuous view of one computer screen in real time, with its various windows and texts popping into view but not being edited. Both films were produced by Bazelevs, a production company run by the producer and director Timur Bekmambetov , who is advancing a series of twenty-plus computer-screen movies that, he says, reflect “a new reality” and that can be made “with no rules.” With “Searching,” however, the lack of rules leads to both a drama and a technique that are utterly unoriginal. The events are spread over several weeks; they aren’t limited to the use of a single computer; and they’re edited to resemble the visual patterns of movies that aren’t bound to computer screens.

There may be no rules to the making of computer-screen films (actually, there are no rules for the making of any films, except bad ones), but the visual storytelling—despite the diverse digital sourcing of the information on which it depends—sticks very close to the film’s rigidly imagined and methodically connected plot. Cho, Messing, and La are excellent actors who are offered almost nothing to work with. (“Searching” depends upon Cho’s distinctive quality of dramatizing dialectical thought in action, as seen in such recent films as “ Columbus ” and “ Gemini ,” without extending or deepening it.) As a live-action thriller, the movie is indistinguishable from, and even inferior to, an episode of “Law & Order.” But what’s dismayingly fascinating about “Searching” is that, for all its reflection of secrets and traits both contained and dispersed in a person’s digital identity, it offers almost nothing of its characters’ identities. It renders them virtually faceless and lacking in inclinations, interests, and idiosyncrasies. When Margot’s secrets emerge, they’re gears of the plot, not aspects of her character.

The main effect of limiting the action of “Searching” to computer screens is to accelerate the pace of storytelling. Just as computers speed up the pace of work (a trip to the library is replaced by a few clicks; flipping through books is replaced by a search ; the travel time for a visit is replaced by a video chat), the movie’s delivery of dramatic information is sped up to cram a large batch of narrative details into its hundred-and-two-minute span. Because the quantity of information is large, the filmmakers simplify the quality of it in order to render the action clear and unambiguous. The incidentals of daily life that surround its digital traces are filtered out; the context vanishes, but its vanishing isn’t dramatized. The filmmakers have little to say about whether computer-centric isolation is alienating, exhilarating, liberation, or terrifying—there’s neither enough computer-screen diversity nor enough physical activity to put the movie’s own premise into context.

The popularity of “Searching” is unsurprising. The modestly clever and easily advertised distinctiveness of its technique is a minor sensation, a variety of Smell-O-Vision, Percepto, or 4-D that creates new cinematic sensations without new cinematic ideas. The technique is an overhyped curiosity that will quickly run its course of popularity and soon come to seem quaint, a nostalgia-inducing artifact of a time when filmmakers tried less to confront than to exploit the obvious phenomenon of time spent in front of computers and online. What’s all the more remarkable, however, is the film’s critical acclaim.

Critics like rules, for a variety of reasons. One is that the power to detect them behind the unruly surfaces of movies seems like a display of analytical acumen. Another is that constraint itself is a mode of virtue in critical discourse; whether the practical constraints imposed by studios and producers in quest of commercial success, the deference to established classical modes of filmmaking, or the graceful submission to the practical concept of movies as a collaborative venture. What’s more, critics often take directorial adherence to one big rule, in lieu of the disparate conventions binding run-of-the-mill movies, as an act of principle. (I’m reminded of the work of so-called Dogme filmmakers , whose firm self-imposed rules appealed to critics—yet, far from resulting in original filmmaking practices, those rules resulted in an even more rigidly script-bound and conventional realism.) What’s noteworthy about “Searching” is solely its reflection of modern digital life, which few filmmakers successfully integrate into the texture and the substance of their live-action dramas. The failure of “Searching” is, conversely, an inability to integrate much of life at all into the world of screens. There’s no reason that a movie confined to a computer screen can’t be a good one, can’t be a substantial creation—but “Searching,” with its self-imposed rules treated as limits rather than challenges, with its conspicuous sense of obedience rather than defiance, doesn’t come close to it.

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Digital mystery satisfies on technical, emotional levels.

Searching Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Movie is all about solving problems, as well as pe

David Kim is a sympathetic character, a problem so

A main character dies of cancer. A teen girl goes

Brief sex-related dialogue, sex-related material.

A spoken and written use of "f---ing," plus uses o

Several tech brand names are mentioned and shown t

A secondary character seems to be something of a d

Parents need to know that Searching is a mystery starring John Cho about a missing teen that's presented entirely through/on computer screens (similar to the horror movie Unfriended ). It's cleverly constructed and emotionally satisfying, as well as diverse and culturally relevant. Expect brief on…

Positive Messages

Movie is all about solving problems, as well as persistence/perseverance in the face of great stress and very little hope. Generosity is a virtue, and better communication between family members is encouraged. Simple "protection" of family members, no matter what they've done wrong, is discouraged.

Positive Role Models

David Kim is a sympathetic character, a problem solver, a good parent who goes to great lengths to rescue his daughter. He's also a positive, three-dimensional Asian American character. Without giving too much away, Margot performs an act of incredible generosity; it doesn't turn out well for her, but her act is nonetheless seen as admirable.

Violence & Scariness

A main character dies of cancer. A teen girl goes missing. A car is found in a lake (there's the possibility of a body inside). A man punches a teen boy. Bloody/bruised face. Spoken reference to a jaw being broken. Two men fight/brawl. A man appears to shoot himself on a video. Spoken references to beating, etc. Arguing and yelling. Threats.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Brief sex-related dialogue, sex-related material. Brief, wrongful assumption that an uncle is having a sexual relationship with his teen niece.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

A spoken and written use of "f---ing," plus uses of "s--t," "ass," "damn," "hella," "perv," and "oh my God" as an exclamation.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

Several tech brand names are mentioned and shown throughout: Internet Explorer, YouTube, eBay, Google, Facebook, Mircosoft, Apple iPhone, Uber, FaceTime, Gmail, Yahoo, Venmo, Norton Antivirus, etc. An Apple computer is turned on, with the familiar "gong" sound and logo. Pokémon is shown and mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secondary character seems to be something of a drug dealer. A jar full of pot is shown. Teen drug use is inferred. Photo of teen drug use. Pipe smoking.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Searching is a mystery starring John Cho about a missing teen that's presented entirely through/on computer screens (similar to the horror movie Unfriended ). It's cleverly constructed and emotionally satisfying, as well as diverse and culturally relevant. Expect brief on-screen fighting, arguing, and yelling, as well as offscreen and verbal references to violence. A main character dies of cancer. There's a bit of sex-related dialogue and some sexual references, and there's a brief, wrongful theory that an uncle is having some kind of sexual relationship with his teen niece. Language includes one "f---ing" and uses of "perv." A secondary character appears to be a drug dealer, supplying pot (offscreen) to a teen girl. A jar filled with pot is shown, teen drug use is inferred, and there's pipe smoking. Many tech brand names are shown throughout (Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), but all in service to the story. Underlying everything are messages of perseverance and the need for stronger communication among family members, as well as the notion of the internet as both a useful and a dangerous place. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Must Watch!

What's the story.

In SEARCHING, David Kim ( John Cho ) has a happy family. He enjoys watching his daughter Margot grow up, posting pictures and videos of her to social media. As Margot hits her teenage years (played by Michelle La ), David finds himself raising her alone, and she seems increasingly distant. Finally one day she simply disappears after a supposed study group, and David hits the internet to try to find clues about where she might have gone. Her friends don't seem to know much, but he discovers that she's also been skipping her piano lessons and pocketing the money. A detective ( Debra Messing ) comes on the case, and time seems to be running out. Can David spot the final clue that will piece everything together?

Is It Any Good?

Perhaps inspired by the success of 2014's Unfriended , this mystery ventures in fresh, new directions while being superbly constructed, emotionally satisfying, and culturally relevant. The debut feature of director Aneesh Chaganty , who also wrote the screenplay with producer Sev Ohanian, Searching is notable for focusing on a Korean American family without making an issue of it. It frankly doesn't matter what culture the Kim family comes from (other than in the valuable representation sense, of course). What matters is what would matter to any human being when a family member is in trouble.

In the lead role, Cho does amazing things, performing largely by himself and within unconventional cameras and camera setups, reaching new emotional depths. The movie's filming techniques do recall some of the more effective things used in Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web , but Searching expands the genre's toolbox, going further in both time and space. And the screenplay, while suffering a few small, easily forgivable shaky spots, is a thing of beauty, furthering the story with desperate, constant propulsion, and dropping little clues in the most innocuous places. When it all comes together, it's with a most pleasurable snap.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Searching 's depiction of violence . How much is shown, and how much is kept offscreen? Are these incidents equally effective? Why or why not?

How are drugs depicted? Are they glamorized in any way? Are there consequences to teens using drugs? Why does that matter?

The movie shows the internet to be both useful and dangerous. How can we choose what's safe -- and what isn't ?

Margot's act of generosity turns out badly, but how does the movie view her act? Is she still admirable? Should generosity be viewed as risky?

How do the characters demonstrate perseverance ? Why is that an important character strength ?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : August 24, 2018
  • On DVD or streaming : November 27, 2018
  • Cast : John Cho , Debra Messing , Michelle La
  • Director : Aneesh Chaganty
  • Inclusion Information : Asian actors
  • Studio : Screen Gems
  • Genre : Thriller
  • Character Strengths : Perseverance
  • Run time : 102 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for language
  • Last updated : September 2, 2022

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Screen Rant

Searching review: john cho shines in suspenseful tech thriller.

Searching is a suspenseful drama, buoyed by its innovative filmmaking style and collection of strong performances by its leads.

Searching is a suspenseful drama, buoyed by its innovative filmmaking style and collection of strong performances by its leads.

Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, the new thriller  Searching is now playing in theaters nationwide. Marking the debut of director Aneesh Chagnaty (who also wrote the script), the film is noteworthy for the way in which it tells its story.  Searching is set almost entirely on electronic screens, illustrating how technology is an integral part of our lives - for better or worse. That could run the risk of becoming a simple gimmick to make its tried-and-true premise more "modern" for today's audiences, but the end result is something far more than a simple experiment.  Searching is a suspenseful drama, buoyed by its innovative filmmaking style and collection of strong performances by its leads.

David Kim (John Cho) and his wife Pam (Sara Sohn) are two loving parents to their daughter Margot (Michelle La). Over the course of Margot's childhood, the family chronicles their adventures on their computer, with photos and videos commemorating Margot's first days of school, her piano lessons, and other special occasions. However, right before Margot begins high school, the Kims are rocked by a tragedy and struggle to adjust to their new lives in the aftermath.

On a night when Margot stays late at a friend's house for a study group, David falls asleep before she gets back home. The following day, David becomes troubled when Margot doesn't respond to any of his messages. Filing a missing persons report, David joins forces with Detective Vick (Debra Messing), and the two work together to uncover any clues they possibly can - including whatever's stored in Margot's laptop - in an effort to find Margot, before something terrible happens.

As indicated above,  Searching is told via computer and smartphone screens, a device that helps elevate the final product. The decision to have the mystery unfold through the devices that consume our everyday existence helps complement the movie's themes about personal connections and the dangers (and benefits) of technology. Chagnaty never feels limited by working on this canvas, keeping the proceedings visually engaging throughout  Searching' s taut runtime and making something mundane like a web search feel very dramatic. There are some neat tricks on display (see: the "sleep screen" transitions to indicate it's a new day), and the technology component helps  Searching feel fresh and unique, despite the on-paper setup (teenage daughter disappears) being familiar.

Searching  isn't just an exercise for a showy new style. It helps greatly that Cho gives one of his finest performances as David. One does not need to be a parent to empathize with his character, with the actor brilliantly portraying the desperation of the situation. What makes Cho's turn stand out even more is that he has an opportunity to explore various sides of David, taking part in some actions that are morally questionable (but justifiable from his point of view), forcing the audience to contemplate what they would do if they were going through the same thing. Cho has to do much of the heavy lifting and carries  Searching on his shoulders, proving he's a more-than-capable leading man.

With much of the focus on David's predicament and search for Margot, the supporting cast has less to do by comparison, but are still solid in their parts. Messing is a strong authoritarian presence as Vick, serving as a nice foil for the increasingly concerned and despondent David. The two stars play off each other nicely, despite most of their interactions taking place through FaceTime video chats. Joseph Lee is also good as Peter, David's stoner brother, who has more layers than one might initially think. As for La's Margot, she is a little more than just a human MacGuffin, as there are important moments of character shading that clue the audience into the kind of person Margot is. Admittedly, La doesn't have the biggest role, but she makes for a convincing teenager in her brief scenes.

Even if  Searching didn't make effective use of its technology angle, the core story would still work due to Chagnaty's script, which packs an emotional punch from its first moments and never holds back. It's hard to not get caught up in the mystery, and viewers should have fun trying to piece together all the evidence as it comes in. Chagnaty does a solid job keeping viewers on their toes, weaving in several possible leads relatively seamlessly so  Searching never feels predictable. In some respects, it actually subverts certain tropes with its twists, making it all the more satisfying an experience.

In the end,  Searching is a most pleasant surprise at the tail end of summer, serving up a gripping narrative and an outside-the-box concept that works in spades. Chagnaty announces himself as a director to watch, and it'll be interesting to see where his filmmaking career goes from here. For those looking for a reprieve from the bigger studio tentpoles of the past few months or something creative to bide the time until the Oscar hopefuls start popping up in theaters,  Searching is definitely one to check out on the big screen.

Searching is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 102 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for language.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comments!

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Movie Review: Searching (2018)

  • Vincent Gaine
  • Movie Reviews
  • --> August 28, 2018

Lives online, lives offline. Activities that only happen because web cameras connect us to an anonymous multitude. What happens online may stay online, or overlap with the “real world.” What happens when a person is one thing on the Internet and another in the outside world? The questions around such alternative lives are pressing concerns in our current digital age, and make for prime dramatic material. In the case of Searching , director Aneesh Chaganty presents these lives and indeed their investigation through the digital devices that record lives. Throughout the film, the frame is filled with the display of computers, while all persons displayed are captured within web cameras, the footage of which is double mediated when the viewer sees them. The film’s conceit sets the stage for a journey into digital identities, footprints and indeed lives.

The conceit of Searching is not unique, having been used previously in “ Unfriended ,” “ Friend Request ” and “ Unfriended: Dark Web .” Unlike these horror films that point to something malevolent or even supernatural on the World Wide Web, Searching takes the digital capture sub-genre (other labels are available) in a different direction.

The narrative of the film is a missing person thriller, as father David Kim (John Cho, “ Columbus ”) searches for his daughter Margot (Michelle La). Following Margot’s disappearance, the only traces that remain are digital. The film frame presents FaceTime, text and chats, video websites, traffic and surveillance cameras and the screens of several computers where the windows of various applications compete for space. This competition emphasizes the crowding of digital information, just how much there is and how dizzying it can be, as well as the level of exposure involved in going online. The early part of the film documents Margot’s life as captured and contained in computers. This charting of the technological development is interesting and somewhat nostalgic, and provides creative product placement for Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and other names that have become as familiar as Mercedes, Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Margot’s life, from birth, through school, piano lessons, friendships and more is steadily charted and recorded through different devices. This history of a life, touched with major developments, including tragedy and triumph, is moving and affecting, as it shows the benefits of regular documentation in maintaining memories both sweet and bitter. Digital capture often receives a negative press, but Searching suggests that there is genuine experience and affection within digital capture.

This aspect of the film is the most interesting, and later scenes in which David reviews his daughter’s life on and offline are moving and even verge on the heartbreaking. The film’s style allows for a probing meditation on different identities, the facilities granted by the Internet and the dangers involved. Indeed, the film is almost essayistic in its limited presentation, as while the screens are multiple they are never omnipresent and no application provides the full story. What David and, by extension, the viewer sees, is inherently incomplete, and these limitations prompt questions about what lies beyond the frame, where the film’s world goes and what we are missing.

This investigation into identity and our relationship with technology is somewhat undermined by the film’s thriller narrative. On its own, the thriller narrative works: David’s increasing desperation as he learns more about Margot’s life and how this may have contributed to her disappearance is affecting. The relationships between David and his brother Peter (Joseph Lee, “Miracle That We Met” TV series) as well as Detective Vick (Debra Messing, “ Like Sunday, Like Rain ”) are convincing. However, the format does start to jar as the film progresses.

Every revelation is either found on Margot’s computer, or revealed in a conversation via video chat, text or e-mail, or on the phone when the web cam just happened to be left on. These developments smack of convenient artifice which jars with the mundanity the film struggles to present through its limited window(s). This problem is exacerbated as important information is recorded on devices that are always close to hand, ready to use and have reception. While narrative conveniences are nothing new, the insistence on only presenting what appears on the diegetic screens detracts from the everyday presentation of the characters. Some of this omnipresent IT is explained by the film being set in Silicon Valley and all of David’s work being contained in his laptop, but Chaganty incorporates multiple forms of communication that cumulatively become too convenient. This again feels like events are geared towards the necessity of capturing EVERYTHING on a single computer, and the effect is more than a little grating.

On the positive side, the family tensions and responsibilities are engaging and palpable, especially that between David and Peter as it provides an emotional arc across the film. Neither character is perfect and revelations about both of them lead to suspicion and tense confrontations. Furthermore, in a year that also features the box office success “Crazy Rich Asians,” the Asian-American family at the center of Searching feels progressive and inclusive (although mental health gets a less encouraging depiction). There are hints about online dangers and opportunities, all of which give the film a sense of heart and coming from the right place. Ultimately the story is compelling and the telling innovative, but the problem is that these two elements are not persuasively linked. As a result, the film is intriguing and at times compelling, but it ultimately feels rather gimmicky.

Tagged: daughter , father , internet , investigation , search

The Critical Movie Critics

Dr. Vincent M. Gaine is a film and television researcher. His first book, Existentialism and Social Engagement in the Films of Michael Mann was published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2011. His work on film and media has been published in Cinema Journal and The Journal of Technology , Theology and Religion , as well as edited collections including The 21st Century Superhero and The Directory of World Cinema .

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searching movie review

  • DVD & Streaming
  • Drama , Mystery/Suspense

Content Caution

searching movie review

In Theaters

  • August 31, 2018
  • John Cho as David Kim; Sara Sohn as Pamela Nam Kim; Michelle La as Margot; Joseph Lee as Peter; Debra Messing as Detective Vick

Home Release Date

  • November 27, 2018
  • Aneesh Chaganty


  • Screen Gems

Movie Review

I don’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter.

On a normal Thursday night, David Kim received a call from his daughter, Margot, informing him that she would be studying all night with a group of friends. The next day she was nowhere to be found.

David Kim never thought that his 15-year old would be considered a missing person. He had the perfect family. A beautiful wife, an adorable daughter, a nice house in the suburbs. But when his wife passed away, he couldn’t span the space between him and Margot.

And now he must race against time to find his only child. But what if the Margot he thought he knew isn’t the real Margot at all?

As David digs deeper and deeper into his daughter’s secret online life, it’s a question that haunts him more and more.

Positive Elements

David will go to any length to find and protect his daughter (even if that means inflicting pain on others at times, which I’ll deal with below). Similarly, Detective Vick (the lead investigator in Margot’s missing person case) tells David that she too would do anything to help her son and to protect him. That common ground—their passionate parental love—forms the foundation for their relationship in the film.

David watches videos of his wife and daughter, reminiscing about happier times. (We see a video of Margot giving her dad a homemade Father’s Day card, as well as other videos of David and his wife spending quality time with Margot.) David’s brother, Peter, tries to make sure that his brother is doing well, always asking questions about his (and Margot’s) emotional wellbeing. Peter also encourages David to talk with Margot (before her disappearance).

As she grieves her mother’s death, Margot finds love, support and understanding through social media. That’s a good thing to a point. But the film also cautions that this relational outlet leaves her vulnerable in ways she doesn’t really understand.

Spiritual Elements

A memorial service is held in a church.

Sexual Content

David reads various texts that suggest Margot was sexually involved with an older male relative. Other suggestive texts include a comment about knowing “how babies are born,” while another asks crudely for “boobies please.” A young man crassly comments “she loves the d.” Someone texts an eggplant emoji (which represents a penis). An older man is called a sick pervert. Women wear revealing outfits.

Violent Content

David punches a wall multiple times, tries to choke another man and puts a teenage boy in the hospital. We see David attack the boy and then later hear how David broke the child’s jaw; we also see David’s bruised chin.

A young woman is found bruised and bleeding; another is thought to be dead. We hear a man confess to beating, crushing and killing his victim. Someone is terrified about being murdered for hiding a secret. The news mentions an ex-convict committing suicide.

A woman dies from cancer. Multiple people post comments on social media sites, accusing innocent people of abduction, abuse and murder. Other people confess to abusive acts.

Crude or Profane Language

An angry parent types “f—ing” and then deletes it. Someone texts “fk cancer” and another says the f-word. God’s name is misused about five times (both in spoken dialogue and typed onscreen). Other profanities include “h—” and “d–n.” Someone uses the phrase “screwing around.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

We hear that an older man and a teenager smoke marijuana; it’s mentioned in conversation, and we see marijuana on a countertop. A teenage boy jokes about playing beer pong. A man’s prescription medication sits on a nightstand. A young man posts separate pictures of himself while he’s smoking a hookah and marijuana, drinking and holding a gun. We hear that someone is drugged.

Other Negative Elements

As he grieves his wife’s death, David overlooks his daughter’s pain and grief. Instead of communicating with Margot after her mother’s passing, he ignores his grief in the hope that it will all work itself out. David emotionally disconnects from his friends and family which results in Margot’s relational seclusion, as well as his own.

Margot has full access to technology without David’s parental oversight. She posts videos and gives out personal information to complete strangers, and she goes where she wants without giving her father many details concerning her whereabouts.

As David searches for Margot, he realizes that he doesn’t know very much about his teen girl (or her at times risky social media habits). His searching leads to a lot of frustration, worry, fear and anxiety as he gradually discovers that she has not been honest with him about many things.

Elsewhere in the film, multiple people exploit Margot’s disappearance for their own selfish reasons and gain. Someone stalks a young woman on social media. A scary image pops onto a computer screen. A young man steals money after creating a fake cause. A young woman creates a fake identity and is accused of laundering money.

Aneesh Chaganty, director of Searching , brought this movie to life entirely through screens of various kinds. This cautionary thriller unspools via security cameras, iPhones, Macbooks, YouTube videos and social media messages. Texts and other messages that David sees in Margot’s various accounts also help to advance the plot here.

These different screen-based modes of storytelling overlap to deliver a couple of warnings:

First, Searching warns us of the dangers that exist when we aren’t aware of what our children are doing online. It encourages intentional communication about technology for the sake of our kids and their safety.

Second, the film speaks to shadowy side of the “fame culture” that informs so much of contemporary life these days. We see how some of those who want to be famous and liked will do whatever it takes to make that happen (including making videos that recklessly exploit themselves).

Finally, Searching reminds us that technology is not always negative. In fact, we see how it can even be used to help solve mysteries like this one.

Searching is a provocative film. I’ve never seen a movie crafted entirely through screens like this one is. On a deeper level, the film also prompted me to think about my relationship with my own son, how I want to be present for him emotionally and know what’s going on in his life as he gets older. I want to be aware of social media trends and knowledgeable when it comes to the sites and apps he’ll use in the future. Most of all, I want to protect him at all costs.

Which means that I wouldn’t bring him—or any young viewer—to this movie. It’s not for littles. This film is aimed at an older audience, as it’s filled with suspense and includes some profanity, violence, references to drug use and gripping stories about the dangers of the internet.

Searching is a story that will keep viewers guessing at every click. And it’s also a movie that might stay with some viewers—especially parents of tweens and teens—in a way that goes deeper than just trying to provide a thrilling cinematic ride.

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Kristin Smith

Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).

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Showbiz Junkies

‘Searching’ Movie Review: An Intense and Relevant Thriller

There have been two extraordinary, original, innovative, character-driven thrillers released theatrically this year and Searching is one of them. The other is A Quiet Place which opened in April 2018 and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. Strong word-of-mouth catapulted the $17 million drama to a worldwide $332 million box office. If the movie gods are fair, Searching should equal A Quiet Place ’s box office success.

Searching ’s difficult to write about as any detail of the story could lead to the unintentional reveal of a spoiler. What Searching is, without giving too much away, is the riveting tale of a dad, David Kim ( John Cho ), raising his daughter, Margot (Michelle La), by himself following the death of his wife. David’s a decent guy and a good dad, though it becomes obvious he hasn’t spent as much time listening to Margot as he should.

Margot goes missing and David, understandably, initially believes she’s off with friends. It soon becomes evident it’s not simply the case of Margot forgetting to touch base with her dad and instead the 16-year-old high school student has truly disappeared.

The police become involved and Detective Vick ( Debra Messing ) heads up what’s now a missing person’s case. David continues to do his own detective work and discovers his daughter’s world is nothing like he imagined.

Written by first time feature filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian, and directed by Chaganty, Searching is an engaging whodunit with twists that aren’t telegraphed in advance. It’s not often a film is able to take an audience completely by surprise, and judging by the reaction of the audience at the screening I attended, Chaganty’s rookie effort accomplished that. I’m not a fan of people who make noise during screenings, but watching Searching is such a collective experience the audience seemed to bond via simultaneous gasps and signals of encouragement unheard by John Cho playing a father terrified for his missing child.

Cho delivers an incredible performance in a film that allows us into the story via the lenses of laptops, cell phones, and even the news cameras following the missing person’s story. David explores Margot’s world by delving into her social media, her texts, her emails, and videos. It’s striking how much he was unaware of leading up to her disappearance, and Cho’s performance makes us feel every ounce of pain, every bit of frustration, and even at times the anger he goes through as he frantically pieces together clues to his daughter’s whereabouts.

Debra Messing, Michelle La, and Joseph Lee (as John Cho’s brother) are equally terrific in bringing this captivating story to life on the screen.

Writer/director Aneesh Chaganty scores a knockout with his first feature and with Searching announces himself as a filmmaker to keep an eye on. An intense thriller that will keep you guessing to the end, Screen Gems’ Searching is a fresh, relevant take on the genre that pulls off telling a story in a new manner yet never stoops to gimmickry or tricks to enthrall the audience.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for language)

Running Time: 101 minutes

Searching star John Cho


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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Demetri Martin: Demetri Deconstructed’ On Netflix, Dreaming Up And Overthinking The Ideal Comedy Special

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Stream it or skip it: ‘we bare bears: the movie’ on hbo max, where grizz, panda and ice bear run to canada to escape a wildlife control agent, don’t ‘overthink’ demetri martin’s comedy on netflix: just look and laugh, demetri martin pitches wildly impractical ideas in new stand-up special trailer.

For his third Netflix comedy special, and first in almost six years since 2018’s The Overthinker , Demetri Martin is still second-guessing his jokes for us to see and hear. It’s a stylistic choice that benefits us at home much more than the folks who watch Martin perform live. All of which definitely sets this apart from the traditional stand-up comedy hours you’ll see on Netflix.


The Gist: In The Overthinker , Demetri Martin added director’s commentary to some of his jokes. This time around, he’s putting even more thought into his material, to the point where everything we’re seeing exists only in his head. Call it a dream, call it a simulation. No matter what you call it, the conceit allows the comedian to, well, deconstruct his own act.

What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?:  The use of easels to illustrate some of his jokes provides echoes of early Zach Galifianakis, while his examination of wordplay in odd ways suggests not only Galifianakis but also Steven Wright.

Memorable Jokes: Martin has overthought commonly-uttered phrases such as “hold your horses” and “not with a 10-foot pole” and now you might, too, if you hadn’t already.

But you might not have reconsidered what it means to be a counterfeiter until Martin makes his case for it, then acts it out, and then describes his act-out to the imaginary person in his act out.

Of course, the more memorable sections are those in which Martin actually deconstructs his own act and not just a particular premise. Sometimes we hear his inner dialogue criticizing his decisions, even urging him to go back and try a joke again, which he sometimes does. Sometimes the commentary simply appears onscreen to add tags or offer counterpoints. Other sections receive a jazzy score and/or playful camera movements.

The most intriguing routine involves no fancy camera work, though. Just Martin and his easel, telling a series of jokes through charts, graphs and pictures, then wowing us by flipping the sheets back in reverse, with completely different jokes on the return trip.

For one extended bit, he breathes life into a hand-drawn demon on his easel pad courtesy of a modulated microphone, briefly turning Martin into ventriloquist act until the mic glitches out.

Our Take: But Martin is otherwise completely in control, directing this special himself.

So why does he live in color, while his imagined simulation of a comedy special exists only in black-and-white? Is this some reverse The Wizard of Oz at play, where Martin, if he could click his heels, would feel more at home onstage than in life? How much of his dream is wrapped up in being 50, but still maintaining the stage image of an American schoolboy caught up in early Beatlemania? And what does it mean that we don’t even really see the audience? Is the audience almost beside the point?

By not visually showing us the audience, Martin certainly makes it easier on himself in the post-production process as well as the production of segments where he layers multiple variations or false starts or awkward pauses, or any other trickeration.

Stand-up specials have long struggled with the ability to translate the infectious energy of live comedy to tape/film. Martin’s techniques help demonstrate what’s possible without those usual limitations. So even if not all of the jokes or experimental takes on jokes quite work, there’s much to be rewarded by taking the chance and experimenting. At the very least, it makes this comedy special special.

Our Call: To paraphrase from one of Martin’s jokes, this special is designed for people who might consider themselves big or huge fans only, either of him or of the art form of stand-up. If that’s you, then STREAM IT.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories:  The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First .

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Someone Like You

Sarah Fisher and Jake Allyn in Someone Like You (2024)

Based on the novel by #1 NYTimes bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, "Someone Like You" is an achingly beautiful love story. After the tragic loss of his best friend, a grieving young archit... Read all Based on the novel by #1 NYTimes bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, "Someone Like You" is an achingly beautiful love story. After the tragic loss of his best friend, a grieving young architect launches a search for her secret twin sister. Based on the novel by #1 NYTimes bestselling author Karen Kingsbury, "Someone Like You" is an achingly beautiful love story. After the tragic loss of his best friend, a grieving young architect launches a search for her secret twin sister.

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The First Omen Review

You have been warned: the prequel is great..

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More moviegoers in 2024 may know The Omen by reputation than from firsthand experience. It’s not that the 1976 horror classic about a little boy who turns out to be the antichrist isn’t a great movie, but despite spawning multiple sequels and revival attempts , it just hasn’t had the same pop-culture resonance or staying power as, say, its contemporary The Exorcist . So the prospect of an in-canon prequel to the original film feels a bit strange – and yet that prequel, The First Omen, works, thanks to a clear directorial vision, a strong central performance, and some gnarly visuals.

This is one hell of a calling card (pun intended) for director and co-writer Arkasha Stevenson, who makes her feature debut chronicling the harrowing ordeal that befalls young American novitiate Margaret (Nell Tiger Free) in a Roman orphanage. The film goes all in on its dark storyline and imagery as Margaret forges a connection with the teenage Carlita (Nicole Sorace), a particularly troubled orphan who’s prone to violence, reminding her newfound protector of her own turbulent childhood. As ominous signs and strange behavior swirl around Carlita, Stevenson and cinematographer Aaron Morton provide a technical flair that evokes the cinema of The First Omen’s 1970s period setting. But they don’t try to mimic that style from start to finish – though obliged to lay the groundwork for 50 years of movies and TV shows about the sinister Damien Thorn, Stevenson’s movie is, thankfully, allowed to have its own identity.

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It’s evident in the standout sequence where Margaret joins her roommate, Luz (Maria Caballero), for a night of rather un-nun-like behavior. Stevenson and Morton stylishly capture Margaret’s buzzed point of view and state of mind in the midst of a busy Italian club whose atmosphere grows menacing and unsettling. It's a welcome escalation in a story that begins sluggishly but picks up momentum in its second half. The First Omen can also be a rough watch at points, delving even deeper into motifs and analogies of bodily autonomy than the recently released, similarly themed Immaculate . Yet Stevenson’s depiction of a woman’s body being controlled and invaded by others doesn’t feel exploitative as much as it is forthright about the horror of Margaret and Carlita’s predicament.

There are also fun and effective jump scares and memorable, suitably creepy moments throughout, plus one shot so graphic that Stevenson says it nearly led to an NC-17 rating. (You’ll know it when you see it – it garnered incredulous applause both times I’ve seen the movie.) The First Omen leans into the franchise’s proto- Final Destination legacy: People who get too close to stopping Damien in these movies tend to meet intricately grisly ends – either by “accident” or their own hand – and that remains true even before the spooky little kid is born. This string of often grimly funny and macabre deaths kicks off in the very first scene, which deftly sets up a big, dangerous object that will quickly turn lethal. It’s great that The First Omen keeps this tradition alive, even if its callback to The Omen’s iconic “It’s all for you” sequence feels a bit forced. (Though, since it’s a prequel, does that make it a call-forward?)

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The cast are all very good, but this is an especially terrific spotlight for Free. The Game of Thrones and Servant alum is excellent here, in a role that asks quite a lot of her. Margaret is a woman of faith, doing her best to lead a pious existence despite some curiosity about a more conventional path in life. The events of The First Omen put her through the wringer, both emotionally and physically, and Free skillfully conveys all of these challenges and how Margaret changes to meet them. Veteran actors Sônia Braga and Bill Nighy (the latter popping in and out of the movie at random) exude expected gravitas as church leaders, and Caballero brings the right edgy-yet-likable vibe to Luz, who is determined to push the boundaries of novitiate behavior. Sorace manages to combine the unsettling yet vulnerable traits that help Margaret connect with Carlita while Ralph Ineson also brings some great frenetic energy as Father Brennan, who has quite a bit of important information for Margaret about what is occurring and why.

Brennan is also notable as the one major character connection to the original Omen, where Patrick Troughton played the role of the priest who desperately tries to warn Gregory Peck’s Robert Thorn that, whoops, he’d adopted the antichrist. In that regard, the end of The First Omen is both amusing and also slightly eye-roll inducing. It looks to both seamlessly lead into the original’s events and set up further entries in the franchise, all without contradicting the earlier films. There’s definitely some silliness at play in how these elements are intertwined, but there’s also something entertaining in the realization that of course Disney and 20th Century Studios wouldn’t go through all the trouble of reviving The Omen without plans for making more of them.

The First Omen manages to serve as a well made prequel as well as an unsettling and creepy horror film in its own right. It takes awhile to get going, and the very end bends backwards pretty far to create setup for potential follow-ups, but the brunt of the movie is very strong, with lead Nell Tiger Free and director Arkasha Stevenson both cementing themselves as stars on the rise.

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'Wicked Little Letters' is a quirky British comedy about small-town scandal

Olivia Coleman in "Wicked Little Letters." (Courtesy Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

A lesson I learned too late in life is that when you’re done venting your spleen in an angry email, it’s always best to hit the “DELETE” key instead of “SEND.” (Chances are the message was more about you blowing off steam than the matter at hand, anyway.) This bit of advice could have saved a whole lot of trouble for the anonymous scribe seen in “Wicked Little Letters,” a jaunty British import based on a true story about a series of obscene missives that scandalized a small Sussex town in the early 1920s. The movie is a pleasantly amusing trifle — one of those quirky English village comedies that used to play for months on end at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and West Newton Cinema back before the audience for this sort of thing started staying home and streaming television shows instead. Like most films that take place in the past, this one’s really more concerned with the present, and any resemblance to our blighted era of online harassment is obviously intentional.

Olivia Colman stars as Edith Swan, a pious spinster who’s been on the receiving end of some impressively filthy, unsigned letters as of late. The only unwed daughter still living at home with her casually oppressive parents (played with stiff upper lips by British national treasures Gemma Jones and Timothy Spall), Edith’s a well-meaning pill who lords over the local Christian Women’s Whist Club and has no idea that even her closest friends consider her kind of a bummer to be around. Edith takes the potty-mouthed messages in stride, a little too eager to assure everyone within earshot that enduring such suffering makes her more like Christ — who also suffered, you know? — while she’s celebrated in the local papers for her fine fortitude in the face of such unprintable insults. It seems the only thing capable of ruffling Edith’s firm feathers is her new next-door neighbor.

Jessie Buckley in "Wicked Little Letters." (Courtesy Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

Jessie Buckley’s Rose Gooding is a handful, all right. One of those Irish immigrants that everyone in the town was worried about showing up in Sussex after the war, she’s a rowdy single mom who curses like a sailor and could probably outdrink an entire fleet. The widowed Rose’s crimes against propriety include having fun and enjoying her life — keeping her new neighbors up all night by having loud, acrobatic-sounding sex with her boyfriend (Malachi Kirby) and allowing her daughter (Alisha Weir) the unladylike hobby of playing the guitar. Just about every aspect of Rose’s existence is an affront to Edith’s belief system, so when the sweary mail starts showing up she’s the only logical suspect. The dunderheaded local constabulary agrees, save for a rookie cop (Anjana Vasan) who wonders why Rose would go to all the trouble of writing down expletives she has no problem saying to Edith’s face.

“Wicked Little Letters” isn’t much of a mystery. (My mom guessed the culprit right away.) But the movie wisely gets that revelation out of the way early on, with director Thea Sharrock focusing instead on the societal factors and suffocating decorum that breed scandals like this one. The real story of the “The Littlehampton Letters” is much meaner than the one told in the movie, which extends a sympathetic ear to pretty much everyone involved, save for Spall’s abusive patriarch. He’s here to embody the spirit-crushing, old world Christian order opposed to free spirits like Rose. (His performance is so scary it sometimes upends the picture’s amiable air, like he walked in from a Mike Leigh movie or something.) Sharrock and screenwriter Jonny Sweet aren’t interested so much in the rivalry between Edith and Rose as they are in establishing their common cause. It’s no coincidence that stories of suffragettes keep popping up in the papers next to breathless coverage of the dirty letters.

Timothy Spall in "Wicked Little Letters." (Courtesy Parisa Taghizadeh/Sony Pictures Classics)

It's a kick to watch Colman and Buckley play off each other, the former coloring her outrage with increasing notes of envy and admiration as their feud wears on. The two actresses co-starred as the same character at different ages in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2021 directorial debut “ The Lost Daughter ” — a terrific picture that, like most movies made for Netflix, seems to have been swallowed by the algorithm instead of getting the attention it deserved — so it’s fun to watch them finally work face to face. I’ve been saying since “Wild Rose” played the Independent Film Festival Boston back in 2019 that Buckley’s a superstar waiting to happen. She makes you wish Hollywood was still writing Julia Roberts roles, because she’d knock one out of the park. Her Rose isn’t a particularly well-drawn character beyond “profane life force,” but Buckley wins your heart even before she starts mooning the cops.

One should never underestimate the entertainment value of prim and proper old biddies saying swears. Edith and Rose have nothing in common save for trying to get along in a world run by exceedingly stupid men, a frustration that cries out for the catharsis of four-letter words. It’s the same plight suffered by Vasan’s Officer Moss, instructed by her superiors to introduce herself as “Woman Police Officer Moss.” The movie caters to contemporary sensibilities — were one feeling less generous, you might say it panders to them — complete with colorblind casting that curiously doesn’t raise any eyebrows in 1920s Sussex. Period verisimilitude is not exactly a strong suit here, yet “Wicked Little Letters” can’t help but resonate in the present day. Just scroll through your town’s Facebook community group sometime and see how much people still love writing nasty things about their neighbors.

“Wicked Little Letters” is now in theaters.

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Sean Burns Film Critic Sean Burns is a film critic for The ARTery.

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Dev Patel's Monkey Man launches him as a legitimate action star in his electrifying directorial debut

A film still of Dev Patel close-up. He has an angry expression, and has facial wounds, and can be seen looking through a gap.

Dev Patel is an actor so outrageously charming, his movie stardom so clearly pre-ordained, it's surprising to note how few of his films are particularly memorable.

Largely defined by Oscar-calibrated biopics and twee British pabulum, Patel's career reflects the paucity of roles for South Asian actors in Hollywood, as well as the gutting of compelling mid-budget fare that once forged A-List names.

Recent collaborations with David Lowery ( The Green Knight ) and Wes Anderson ( The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar ) have given the actor the chance to stretch beyond the bright-eyed earnestness and sexless innocence he'd been typecast as — but it's Patel's directorial debut, Monkey Man, that unleashes him onto a full-throated star vehicle.

Splitting the difference between revenge saga and angsty origin story, the film centres on a taciturn vigilante named "Kid" as he seeks justice for his mother's death.

A film still of Dev Patel and Pitobash, standing together in an old-fashioned lift. Patel has a tray of drinks in one hand.

Like Batman, Wolverine and countless other animal-themed heroes, Kid is a bruised loner consumed by righteous fury. His primate persona (in character, rather than literal form) hails from the Hindu deity Hanuman, whose legend is narrated to Kid by his mother in the film's prologue.

Evoking both Icarus and Prometheus, Hanuman's story begins with the young demigod attempting to seize the sun, mistaking it for a ripe mango, and facing immediate punishment from the Gods.

A film still of Dev Patel, wearing a gorilla mask. He is crouched in the corner of a wrestling ring, one arm on the ropes.

It's a fable that adds mythic weight to Kid's own blood-soaked tale. While moonlighting as the heel of an underground fighting tournament in a fictional Indian city, he insinuates his way into the bottom rung of a high-end brothel ruthlessly managed by Queenie Kapoor (Ashwini Kalsekar). 

His rise through the ranks — with the assistance of comedy-relief gangster Alphonso (Pitobash) — inches him closer to his primary target of vengeance, Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande): a corrupt spiritual leader with deep pockets and vast political influence.

The ensuing carnage exhibits an electrifying, go-for-broke attitude from Patel as action star and first-time director, even if he never quite exceeds his influences.

While Kid is far too Hollywood-handsome and well-groomed to physically resemble a scrappy street rat, each messy brawl sees Patel mutate into another creature entirely. Neither an unstoppable machine nor a sophisticated martial-arts master, Kid is a vicious underdog who's unafraid to rip into flesh with his bare teeth.

The action is often captured in longer handheld shots with little space to hide, letting Patel flex his fighting prowess. Even without an awareness of the film's gruelling shoot (which saw the actor-director sustain numerous injuries), it's one of the more committed action movie turns you'll see this year.

A film still of Dev Patel. He is lit by red light behind him, and is wearing a suit and a determined expression.

John Wick is playfully name-dropped early on, an acknowledgement of their broad similarities: an unlikely hero out for revenge in a tailored suit; a fondness for neon-drenched clubs; roots in Asian action cinema.

But there's a scruffiness to Monkey Man that feels just as inspired by the hyper-modern work of Korean director Jung Byung-gil (The Villainess) — particularly in a chaotic midpoint set piece that dazzlingly slips in and out of Kid's POV and splices in noisy phone footage.

Occasionally, the loving homages miss the point. Key ideas and visual motifs are lifted from Park Chan-wook's twisty 2003 thriller Oldboy, which imbued ultraviolence with gnawing dread as its hero's revenge capitulated to self-annihilation.

Monkey Man is comparatively disinterested in dipping its toes into the murkiness of vigilante justice.

A film still of Sharlto Copley. He is holding a microphone to his mouth, the other arm outstretched to his left.

The film is also marred by increasingly obtrusive flashbacks that sketch out Kid's generic tragic backstory. His motivating trauma is laboured to an almost dulled effect, though it also manifests in Kid's Oedipal obsession with protecting Sita (Sobhita Dhulipala), one of the escorts he works alongside.

A slowed-down remix of The Police's Roxanne all but spells out Kid's gendered saviour complex in one woozy nightclub scene – only for Patel to quickly abandon this idea.

This blunt force approach functions better in Monkey Man's rebuke of Hindu nationalism. Its villains extend to religious supremacists, dirty politicians and crooked cops, all implicated in the film's depiction of sectarian violence (which incorporates real-world footage).

A film still of Dev Patel, smiling up at a woman. He is lying in her lap, with other people seated around them.

It all reflects a palpable, searing fury against the religion's modern-day weaponisation under India's major political parties; just as American action films tore down Trump-coded villains from 2016 onwards, Patel aims his sights on India's current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

Noticeably absent from the film are any explicit mentions of India's Muslim population, who are most at risk from the ongoing expansion of Hindu nationalism. As much as Patel and Kid embrace Hindu mythology in a stirring act of reclamation, there's a hollowness in how the film ultimately omits the real-life victims.

Nevertheless, there's no denying the sheer spectacle of Patel promoting himself to action movie stardom – even if some punches are pulled.

Monkey Man is in cinemas now.

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  1. Searching movie review & film summary (2018)

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  18. Searching (film)

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    Movie Review. I don't know her. I didn't know my daughter. On a normal Thursday night, David Kim received a call from his daughter, Margot, informing him that she would be studying all night with a group of friends. ... Searching is a provocative film. I've never seen a movie crafted entirely through screens like this one is. On a deeper ...

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    The other is A Quiet Place which opened in April 2018 and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews. Strong word-of-mouth catapulted the $17 million drama to a worldwide $332 million box office. If the movie gods are fair, Searching should equal A Quiet Place's box office success.

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    Searching Movie Review: Critics Rating: 4.5 stars, click to give your rating/review,Indian-origin filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty's feature film debut is a gem of a high-concept thriller wit.

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  23. Watch Searching

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