by Toby Woollaston

searchingThe secret world of a teenager’s digital life is explored in this engaging desktop thriller. It is a Hitchcockian Rear Window for the modern generation, with the action taking place entirely within the confines of an electronic screen.

Helming his first feature film, writer/director Aneesh Chaganty has dipped his digital toes into the growing pool of Bekmambetov styled desktop thrillers.  It’s a bold move for the fledgeling director, who almost pulls it off. 

John Cho (Star Trek) plays David, a recent widower who is managing to keep it together as a solo dad.  But when his teenage daughter fails to return home one night, things begin to unravel. Her disappearance is as much a mystery to the case Detective Vick (played by Debra Messing) as it is to David.  His desperate investigations into her whereabouts traverse a dizzying scape of social media and streaming sites which lead him down a warren of false-turns, dead-ends, and red-herrings. The bulk of the film is essentially David getting to know his daughter without actually spending any time with her.

It’s engaging stuff and the format offers fertile ground to garner insights from its characters as it flits between various online services. A momentary mouse pause over an icon or word deleted during a message speak volumes for what is going through David’s mind, and here it is used to full dramatic effect.

Unfortunately, when the action is required further afield, things begin to derail. Beholden to its modus operandi, the enforced confines of the digital screen are stretched to breaking point and when David is required to visit other locations the film can’t quite maintain a sense of plausibility. It begins relying on tropes such as streaming news-casts to elucidate proceedings beyond what they would normally do. And despite director Chaganty’s noble efforts, the action begins to feel awkward and slightly gimmicky.

That said, it is just this gimmick that elevates Searching above what would’ve otherwise been a bog-standard crime thriller. So, “like” to that at least.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.