Search: overcomes what should have been a goofy premise to be legitimately thrilling and enjoyable.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Summary: After a five-minute sequence of the Kim family's online activity that beautifully relays a decade of their shared lives, Search drops us into the current online existence of family patriarch David and daughter Margot, a high school freshman. Parenting mainly through iMessages and quick FaceTime chats, David is initially more annoyed than concerned when a series of his texts go unreturned, but he soon realizes Margot has gone missing. While a helpful detective searches for Margot out in the real world, David grasps at rediscovering his daughter in an unfamiliar online landscape as he searches through the traces she left behind on her laptop.
There are times when a premise just sounds like a terrible idea in theory. When you read the summary for Search, a movie shot entirely through computer and phone screens, you might think of the abysmal Unfriended from a few years ago that was shot on Skype. The idea of using computers and FaceTime to tell a story is an interesting one, though, and Search ended up being the anti-Unfriended.
The movie takes the concept of always having a camera on us and takes us to the logical extreme. While it gets a bit goofy sometimes when the movie needs to contrive reasons for people to be on screen, it only happens once or twice at the most.
The thing that really makes the entire production work is the lead performance by actor John Cho. Cho is a movie star in his own right, but hasn't really had the leading man movie to show off his chops. He's either playing that role on television or he's a supporting player in a movie. In Search, he's alone or acting against the great Debra Messing, but they aren't ever in the same room. We end up watching Cho's reactions to a lot of things through the eyes of a webcam or a phone camera rather than a regular camera. It means that he feels that much more distant to us, and it means Cho ends up working twice as hard to make sure we understand his emotions.
The thing that really makes Search so much better than you ever thought it would be is the story. This is a mystery where the movie does a great job of laying out the clues for all of us to follow and it has some fantastic twists and turns by the end. It channels the idea of online identity in young people and the idea that parents might not know their kids as well as they thought. This is a story as old as time itself, but social media means that parents get a much more blatant representation of not knowing their kids compared to a poorly written diary or finding a single cigarette in a drawer. It's a story we've all seen before, but the delivery plus the great twists make it something different.
Search takes a gimmick that really shouldn't work and a story we've all seen a hundred times over and turned it into something unique and interesting to watch. It's not life-changing, but it is thrilling and a ton of fun to watch.