Director Timur Bekmambetov has said that he developed the screen-capture technology responsible for the transtextual horror film Unfriended: Dark Web and the thriller Profile when he realized Americans spend up to half their waking hours online or connected to devices. Now he has produced a feature directed by Aneesh Chaganty called Searching, starring John Cho as a checked-out father combing through his missing daughter’s online footprint, hunting for any clues that might help reveal what has happened to her. But what’s actually gained by this novel technique of watching a story on a screen on a screen? I imagined how whatever scene I was watching might have been staged and shot and acted out in a more traditional film — and was inevitably disappointed by what has been lost, especially in terms of cinematic decision-making and flesh-and-blood performances.
Eventually, we see David (Cho) FaceTiming with his teen daughter, Margot (Michelle La), telling her to come home right after her study session — and to take out the trash. In the middle of the night, David misses three calls from Margot, and then everything goes awry. Now no one knows where Margot has gone, and after digging into her computer, David finds out he may not know his daughter at all.
The film has promise, but the tech keeps getting in the way of the performances. Debra Messing, who plays Detective Vick, is a formidable actress, yet I didn’t believe a word she said, especially when she was just a detached voice on the phone. Why wouldn’t you want to see John Cho and Debra Messing actually vibing off each other in a scene? Chemistry between actors has only fueled Hollywood filmmaking for a century!
Aneesh ChagantyJohn Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara SohnAneesh Chaganty, Sev OhanianSony Pictures