Searching is a 2018 American mystery thriller computer screen film directed by Aneesh Chaganty in his feature debut and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Set entirely on computer screens and smartphones, the film follows a father (John Cho) trying to find his missing 16-year-old daughter (Michelle La) with the help of a police detective (Debra Messing). It is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor.
|Directed by||Aneesh Chaganty|
|Cinematography||Juan Sebastian Baron|
|Music by||Torin Borrowdale|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$75.5 million|
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on August 31, 2018, by Screen Gems. The film was a financial and critical success, grossing over $75 million worldwide against a $880,000 budget and receiving praise for its direction, acting, unique visual presentation and unpredictable storyline. At the Independent Spirit Awards, Cho was nominated for Best Male Lead. A sequel is in development.
David Kim lives in San Jose, California with his daughter Margot. His wife Pamela was diagnosed with lymphoma and died before Margot entered high school. One day, David cannot get in contact with Margot. Believing she has gone to her piano lesson, David calls the piano instructor, but he is informed that Margot cancelled her lessons six months prior. He discovers that she was pocketing the money and transferred it to a now-deleted Venmo account. He calls the police and the case is assigned to Detective Rosemary Vick. Accessing Margot's accounts, David learns that she had become a loner since Pamela's death. Vick reports that Margot made a fake ID and shows traffic camera footage of her car outside of the city, suggesting she may have run away.
David, unconvinced, discovers that Margot had been using a streaming site and befriended a young woman called "fish_n_chips". Vick reports back that fish_n_chips is innocent, having been sighted in Pittsburgh at the time of the disappearance. From Margot's Tumblr, David finds that she frequently visited Barbosa Lake, which is near the highway she was last seen. At the lake, he finds her Pokémon keychain on the ground. The police locate her car underwater. Her body is not inside, but there is an envelope containing the piano lesson money. A search party is arranged, but a storm slows the process.
After an altercation David has with a boy who claimed to know where Margot is, Vick tells him he can no longer participate in the investigation. Undeterred, David visits a site that displays the crime scene photographs and notices his brother Peter's jacket. He then discovers text messages between Margot and Peter, hinting that they might have had an incestuous relationship. When he confronts Peter, the latter explains that they were only smoking marijuana and confiding in each other. He chastises David for failing to notice his daughter was depressed. Vick tells him that an ex-convict named Randy Cartoff confessed to raping and killing Margot before committing suicide.
An empty-casket funeral is arranged for Margot. As David is uploading photos to a funeral streaming site he notices that the website's stock photograph features the same woman as fish_n_chips’s profile picture. He contacts the woman and discovers that she is a stock model who does not know Margot and that the police never called her. Attempting to report this to Vick, he instead reaches a dispatcher who reveals that Vick volunteered to take the case and was not assigned to it as she had claimed. David googles Vick and finds that she knew Cartoff through a volunteer program for ex-convicts. After reporting this to the sheriff, David confronts Vick at the funeral; the police arrive and arrest Vick.
Vick agrees to confess in exchange for leniency for her son Robert, who was using the alias fish_n_chips to get close to Margot because he had a crush on her. Margot sent Robert the money thinking he was a working-class girl whose mother was in the hospital. Robert felt guilty and wanted to give the money back. When he surprised Margot by getting into her car while she was smoking, she ran, and in the scuffle, Robert accidentally pushed her off a cliff into a 50-foot-deep ravine. Vick decided to cover up the incident, pushing the car into the lake and creating the fake ID scenario. She then turned Cartoff into a fall guy and killed him.
David asks Vick where Margot's body is, and she tells she's still in the ravine but that even if she survived the fall, she could not have lived five days without water. David tells the police to turn around, pointing out that a storm had occurred on the third day of the search and would have provided Margot with water. The rescue crew discovers Margot severely injured but alive.
Two years later, Margot has applied for college to major in piano. David tells her that Pamela would have been proud of her.
Margot is then shown changing her desktop picture from one of Pamela and her to the one David sent her of the two of them, indicating a better relationship between the father and daughter.
- John Cho as David Kim, Margot's father
- Debra Messing as Detective Sergeant Rosemary Vick
- Michelle La as Margot Kim, the daughter of David and Pamela
- Kya Dawn Lau as 9-year-old Margot Kim
- Megan Liu as 7-year-old Margot Kim
- Alex Jayne Go as 5-year-old Margot Kim
- Sara Sohn as Pamela Nam Kim, David's wife
- Joseph Lee as Peter Kim, David's brother and Margot’s uncle
- Steven Michael Eich as Robert Vick, Rosemary's son
- Ric Sarabia as Randy Cartoff, ex-convict
- Sean O'Bryan as Radio Jockey
- Colin Woodell as 911 Operator
The original conception was an 8-minute short film. When Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian pitched the concept to The Bazelevs Company, the latter suggested it could be expanded into a feature film. While Ohanian was open to the offer and saw its potential, Chaganty was hesitant since he believed a feature film would be stretching the concept and feel too gimmicky. But after coming up with the intro, they felt the film would work. The character, Rosemary Vick, was named after Rosemary's Baby and The Shield's character Vic Mackey. Actor John Cho turned down the role of David Kim at first because he felt that the concept of a movie seen entirely through TV, phone and computer screens was not feasible.
The film was shot on various devices. These include GoPro, drone (unmanned aerial vehicle), news helicopters, mini dv cameras, webcam, and even director Aneesh Chaganty's iPhone, which became the main camera. The scenes between Cho's David Kim and Debra Messing's Rosemary Vick were all shot in one house, with Cho on one side of the house and Messing at the other. Actress Michelle La described the filming process as a "logistical nightmare". Cho also said in an interview that the production crew made him look older in the movie by drawing lines on his face since his character had a teenage daughter.
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018. Shortly after, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired distribution rights to the film for $5 million. It was initially scheduled to be released on August 3, 2018, but was pushed back to a limited release on August 24, 2018, before opening wide on August 31, 2018.
Searching grossed $26 million in the United States and Canada, and $49.4 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $75.5 million.
Searching debuted to $388,769 from nine theaters in its limited opening weekend, for a per-venue average of $43,197. It expanded to 1,207 theaters on August 31, and was projected to gross $3 million over the weekend. It ended up making $6.1 million (including $7.6 million over the four-day Labor Day frame), finishing fourth at the box office. In its second weekend of wide release, the film was added to an additional 802 theaters, and grossed $4.5 million, finishing fifth. It then made another $3.2 million in its third week of wide release.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 249 reviews, with an average rating of 7.50/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Searching's timely premise and original execution are further bolstered by well-rounded characters brought to life by a talented cast." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 78% overall positive score.
Variety's Peter Debruge called the film "so unique in its approach that Sundance can only program something of its kind once before the gimmick gets old." Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a grade of "B+" and called it "a true storytelling feat, married with sharp editing that makes the entire effort not only seamless, but also wholly intuitive," also saying, "Aneesh Chaganty's drama transcends its gimmick, offering up a smart and refreshing spin on movies that literally play out on small screens." Screen Rant's Chris Agar gave the film four out of five stars, and summed it up as "a suspenseful drama, buoyed by its innovative film making style and collection of strong performances by its leads." He added, "Even if Searching didn't make effective use of its technology angle, the core story would still work due to Chaganty's script, which packs an emotional punch from its first moments and never holds back."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four out of five stars and wrote "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". Aisha Harris of The New York Times wrote, "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."
News18 India's Rajeev Masand gave the film 4/5 stars and stated, "it's difficult to talk about the plot in any detail for fear of ruining the tension and its multiple twists," though "Chaganty has elevated a standard missing-person drama into something quite extraordinary on the strength of his inventive storytelling..." Mihir Fadnavis of Firstpost wrote, "this is a very exciting film that needs to be seen on the big screen and one that seems like an avenue into what the future of cinema could be...Searching has created some sort of a blueprint to make more films like this more easily at a much faster pace."
On August 14, 2019, a sequel was announced to be in development. Chaganty clarified that the story will not "follow the same characters or plot line as the original." On January 13, 2021, it was announced that the first film's editors, Will Merrick and Nick Johnson, would write the screenplay for and direct the sequel, based on a treatment by Chaganty and Ohanian.
- 2018: Alfred P. Sloan Prize at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
- 2018: NEXT Audience Award at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
- 2018: Sundance Institute / Amazon Studios Narrative Producer Award to producer Sev Ohanian at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
- 2019: Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead nomination (John Cho; lost to Ethan Hawke for First Reformed)
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