dir Aneesh Chaganty
scr Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
prd Timur Bekmambetov, Sev Ohanian, Natalie Qasabian, Adam Sidman
with John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Connor McRaith, Briana McLean, Erica Jenkins, Reed Buck, Steven Michael Eich, Ric Sarabia, Dominic Hoffman
release US 24.Aug.18, UK 31.Aug.18
18/US Sony 1h42
Navigation issues: Cho

messing lee la
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Searching This isn't the first film to tell its story with computer or phone screens, but this the most finely accomplished one. The script and direction are so tight that they keep the audience gripped. Filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty avoids many of the usual cliches in a twisty thriller, partly because it's impossible to have, say, a car chase in this format. But also because everything is remarkably grounded in reality.

After his wife (Sohn) dies of cancer, David (Cho) raises his daughter Margot (La) on his own. Now 16, she has a life of her own, so David has no idea where to look when she goes missing. The detective on the case, Rosemary (Messing), is doing her best. But it's when David digs into Margot's laptop that he discovers her secrets, including online relationships, lies and an inexplicable financial transaction. Following each lead is emotionally draining, but each new discovery sends David and Rosemary down another rabbit hole.

The story is crafted with clever detail, set within familiar software and operating systems, social media apps and websites. Conversations take place on FaceTime or in messaging windows, with photos and videos revealing new information. Chaganty skilfully reveals hints and suggestions, including some that lead to the final twist, but the options are so varied, the shifts in tone so sudden, that the audience is thoroughly engaged through every turn of the tale.

Cho is terrific in the central role as a worried dad diving into a world that feels alien. David knows grief has put distance between him and his daughter but feels powerless to do something about it, and the way he blames himself adds a strong kick of emotion. The most intense scene is one between Cho and Lee, as David's likeable brother Peter. And Messing has some superbly jarring scenes of her own along the way.

The story unfolds in overlapping windows so recognisable that even one false moment would be glaring, and it's remarkable that Chaganty keeps everything almost eerily authentic. This includes a knowing depiction of trending hashtags, online trolls and web-based advertising. Many of these touches bring a smile (or even a lol) of familiarity, which helps cut the tension and draw us in even further. The final series of rug-pulling plot points feels perhaps a little too tidy, but this is such an assured feature debut that we're already looking forward to Chaganty's next one.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 24.Jul.18

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