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Review: Thriller Movie Searching Is a Welcome Surprise, Especially With John Cho in the Lead

4 out of 5 stars.

Sony's Searching Stars John Cho

John Cho is a bonafide movie star. We love John Cho. There’s a reason why he was the center of the #StarringJohnCho hashtag—he’s a versatile actor who can do comedy and drama equally well, who deserves better than starring in one-season wonders on TV. From Selfie to Flash-Forward to, yes, Sulu, he’s proved that he can more than carry his own onscreen, which is why Searching first caught my eye. Finally, we get a film where Cho does all the heavy lifting.

But turns out, there’s a lot more to love about Searching than just Cho in a leading role.

Following on the heels of Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the film breaks ground in a new genre; to paraphrase Vanity Fair, it is the first mainstream thriller to star an Asian-American actor. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, the film follows David Kim (Cho) as he searches for his missing daughter Margot (Michelle La). As the investigation, headed up by Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) turns up nothing, he turns to his daughter’s laptop to find answers.

The film is told entirely through a laptop screen, with Cho as the primary point of view. He’s in every scene, the FaceTime camera holding close on his face as he searches frantically for Margot.

The entire thing is smartly written, with a tight plot that offers the usual twists and suspects. The use of computer screens never becomes gimmicky; unlike films like Unfriended, which rely on jump scares and Skype sessions to show how technology can be evil, this film is more based around how David uses technology to track Margot and piece together the mystery surrounding her. News articles, YouTube clips, and even FaceTime all come together. In one haunting moment, David receives an email from a site that offers to livestream Margot’s funeral should she be found dead.

The film also shows, in a powerful opening montage that’s very Up-esque, how technology can be used to bring people together and keep memories alive (and when I say it’s similar to Up, I do recommend bringing tissues). Upon reflection, the film is perhaps the first I’ve seen in a long time in which technology is presented as being a fact of life, rather than either an evil or a blessing.

Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian present David’s use of technology as just another facet of his life and his search for his daughter. It isn’t the devil that lured her away from him, but rather something she kept private, that he is trying to use to bring her home.

Cho, of course, shines in the film. So much of the it rests on him being an everyman and a father, and he does so brilliantly. We experience the story entirely through his eyes, and the vulnerability Cho gives David makes him easy to empathize with. The other standout is Messing, who gives a surprising turn as Detective Vick. I’m so used to seeing her as Grace Adler from Will and Grace that her calm, collected performance caught me very much off guard in the best way possible.

Searching opens in select theaters today, and opens wide next weekend. If you’re looking for a fresh take on the thriller genre, I highly suggest you check this one out. For Cho’s devotees, film buffs, and anyone looking for a unique movie, this is a safe bet.

(image: Sony Pictures)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.