What happens when one realizes that they do not know their child? Searching answers those questions and manages to capture audiences through clicks and a blinking cursor. The film relies on the viewers’ willingness to go on a journey with David Kim (John Cho) to locate his sixteen-year-old daughter, Margot Kim (Michelle La), who goes missing. Trying to give his daughter the benefit of the doubt that she will return home, David realizes that he should have called earlier as soon as he places the phone call to 911. With the case assigned to Detective Vick (Debra Messing), an urgency to find Margot, who has already been missing for 37 hours, and lends itself to an all-hands-on-deck line of thought.
The reason the audience becomes invested is we walk beside David every step of the journey. Part of Searching‘s brilliance is how we learn as much about David Kim’s daughter as he knows himself. By using home videos, we see Margot grow up. We see a devoted husband and father, but more importantly, we see a little girl with good home life. Viewers search alongside David for Margot. While the film does not play in real-time, we are all alerted in what feels like real-time every time the phone rings or a text message arrives or revealed.
Furthering the urgency, David begins to contact everyone who has contacted Margot and every time new clues to update the spreadsheet with an additional phone call around each turn that David takes, or makes, from Detective Vick. We also find ourselves in a place unknown to most audiences; we find ourselves inside of not just a father’s computer but a young woman’s computer as well. The challenges David faces within the film are played upon with these devices. Further challenges take place by David not truly understanding each social media platform Margot has placed herself on, which complicates what is important and what details are not.
Instead of physically keeping a diary these days, we have private accounts set up instead, and the truth is even the imprint we leave online is not the true us most of the time. A digital footprint we leave for those people we let into our lives. Sometimes we even reveal too much about ourselves or create a persona online that fails to match our actual lives. We chose which people to let in and on what platform. With the added complexity that most teenagers have fake accounts versus real accounts to maintain their privacy so desperately yearn for at a young age, we learn alongside David admits that he does not know his daughter.
However, David does know enough to know that Margot is different than most other teenagers. She has suffered the loss of her mother, a fact we leave within the film’s opening credits. A fact that makes her slightly more withdrawn than the typical teenager, which is the scariest thought of all. A teenager who maintains boundaries is one thing, a teenager who begins to lead her own life to get away from her old one is beyond frightening. We begin to wonder what a life she has been living for the past couple of months through messages. Is David a horrible parent?
I enjoy the most about Searching because it embarks on the journey that the Unfriended franchise did previously in 2014 and earlier this year. The main difference is that Searching does so to keep the viewer caring about the characters involved. Instead of audiences staying glued to their screens, we become glued to the screens of David Kim and his daughter Margot. We want to know what happened to Margot. We want her found, and we are not going to accept any answer and become content. With twists and turns around every corner of this unique take on what a modern-day thriller should be, viewers learn that the answers we seek are right there in front of us. We just have to know where to look.