David Kim (John Cho) has had enough tragedy in his life and really doesn't need any more. A few years ago, he was the head of a happy family of three, with his wife Pam (Sara Sohn) and daughter Margot (Michelle La), but then the major issues struck them and Pam was hit with a cancer diagnosis. She battled it bravely, but it was not enough, and passed away a couple of years ago; David and Margot have struggled on, and he believes he has managed to cope and helped his daughter to also. However, one night, after loyally keeping in touch with texts and live video as she usually does, for some reason she stops responding to him. Where has she gone to?
The thriller or horror that took place on a series of computer screens was nothing new even by 2018 when this was released, and it had a rival in the Unfriended sequel which was out around the same point, but there were examples that were not bad at all, and Searching was one of them. Taking a mystery yarn that could easily have been adapted to a crime paperback, the approach adopted here made it part of a singular club that built on the found footage format to keep the visuals interesting, especially if you spent most of your waking hours glued to the screen of your phone, tablet or laptop, and therefore were used to following a narrative playing out in windows and messaging.
You might have observed this was a cynical way to keep the kids interested in your movies, but with this there were strong signs it was as much aiming to appeal to the parents who would spend their evenings watching CSI or Law and Order as it was the younger audiences of Margot's age who might have sympathised with her. The notion that everyone needs to know everything about everyone else, that privacy should be thrown out of the window because we all should be aware of and able to access everyone else's innermost thoughts and day-to-day actions, was prevalent here, and even to an extent endorsed since if David had been more savvy about his offspring, she might be OK.
After all, since bringing up children involves keeping them safe from harm in the most basic ways, having them stay away from unpleasant and damaging material online had become a very pressing parental concern in the twenty-first century, and once the children became teenagers there was a sense that all your protection was for nothing because before long they were going to be publicly shamed on social media, or a victim of scammers, or all sorts of awful things you had legitimate fears about that would be detrimental to their mental health. That anxiety was shot through Searching when sixteen-year-old Margot goes missing, and David has all sorts of terrible thoughts about what happened to her: was she being groomed? Was she seeking out material on subjects like self-harm, or worse, suicide?
Nevertheless, there is in the background an awareness that because his wife died, David has been that bit too clingy and overprotective of Margot, and that has compelled her to shut herself down and retreat into her own thoughts. When he finds out what she is really like at school - a loner - he is shocked for he believed she was at least fairly popular with a circle of friends (one pointed joke has the pupils who barely or grudgingly spent time with her emoting on social media as if they were BFFs). But has this loneliness made her vulnerable to those who would bully and exploit her? Is that what happened? If the solution relied on coincidence a shade more than was comfortable, this was constructed with satisfying neatness, and the paranoia that comes with technological thrillers was part of that. Nothing new there, and not anything new elsewhere, but finely executed with genuine surprises if you immersed yourself in it - which was easy to do. Music by Torin Borrowdale.