SEARCHING: We’re introduced to a young, suburban American family in an opening sequence that utilizes YouTube videos and Gmail to digitally chronicle their joys, milestones and the illness and premature death of the wife/mother (Sara Sohn) to cancer. In its’ own style and way, it is as moving a passage as the dialogue free montage of the old man and his spouse’s life together in Pixar’s UP (2009) and it beautifully illustrates how digital devices have become the scrapbooks of our lives. All of this skillfully sets up the primary plot where the now widower father (John Cho) is forced to become an internet investigator when his teenage daughter (Michelle La) mysteriously disappears. Much of the dialogue takes place in the form of face time or texts that immerses us exclusively into the digital world. It’s what you might expect from a first-time filmmaker like Aneesh Chaganty who was a former employee at Google (See CLOSING CREDITS.) and obviously knows all the ways that people are able to navigate through cyberspace. Using storytelling devices that employ foreshadowing, Chaganty leaves us “cookies” implying what’s to come. When we learn that the missing daughter attends a high school nicknamed the catfish, we know that some kind of digital deception will be in play here. It would have been so easy for this film to be a gimmicky, cinematic novelty act. But it’s effectively paced and has some very compelling characters that stand out throughout the work. Even though the resolution (Which I won’t reveal.) feels way too illogical and implausible based on what has transpired and what we’ve seen, it doesn’t detract from a movie built on a solid foundation of ideas. Namely, that we leave our digital DNA everywhere we go and that you can find anything and everything on the internet which is the best and worst thing about it. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Originally born and raised in Hyderabad, India, co-writer/director Aneesh Chaganty was raised on a diet of Bollywood and Hollywood films. After making his way to America, the 26-year old Chaganty worked at Google for a couple of years while making short films during his down time. Chaganty initially pitched SEARCHING as an eight-minute short. The producers, who had seen Chaganty’s movies, suggested that he turn it into a full-length feature film. At first, Chaganty declined their offer arguing that he didn’t want to elongate a good idea beyond its creative potential. But Chaganty changed his mind and made the movie on a shoestring budget and is now regarded as another Asian filmmaker to be reckoned with. Recently, the entire cast and crew of CRAZY RICH ASIANS booked an entire theater to watch SEARCHING.