Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Aneesh Chaganty|
|Music by||Torin Borrowdale|
|Cinematography||Juan Sebastian Baron|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$70.8 million|
Searching is a 2018 American thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty in his feature debut and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Set almost entirely on smartphones and computer screens, the film follows a father (John Cho) trying to find his missing 16-year-old daughter (Michelle La) with the help of a police detective (Debra Messing). It is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018, and was theatrically released in the United States on August 31, 2018, by Screen Gems. The film was a financial and critical success, grossing over $70 million worldwide against a $1 million budget and receiving praise for its direction, acting, unique visual presentation and unpredictable storyline. At the Independent Spirit Awards, Cho was nominated for Best Male Lead.
In San Jose, California, David Kim looks through old photographs and videos of his daughter Margot and his late wife Pamela, who died from lymphoma nearly two years earlier, after which David and Margot became distant. One night, Margot goes to a friend's house for her study-group. While David sleeps, Margot attempts to call him three times. The next morning, David is unable to reach Margot but assumes she has risen early to go to school. Later, he calls Margot's piano instructor, but is informed that Margot had cancelled her lessons six months ago.
David discovers that Margot had been pocketing the money for the lessons, before suddenly transferring $2,500 to a deleted Venmo account. Realizing that Margot is missing, David calls the police, and the case is assigned to Detective Rosemary Vick, who asks for information about Margot's personality and friendships. David manages to access Margot's Facebook and speaks to her contacts only to discover that Margot has not had close friends since Pamela's death. Vick calls to report that Margot made a fake ID for herself, and shows traffic-camera footage of Margot's car at a highway-juncture outside of the city, suggesting Margot may have deliberately run away.
David, unconvinced, discovers that Margot has been using a "broadcasting" site called YouCast and that she frequently spoke to a girl named fish_n_chips. Vick investigates this, and reports back that fish_n_chips is innocent, having been sighted in Pittsburgh. From Margot's Instagram, David finds that Margot frequently visited Barbosa Lake, which is near the highway-juncture where she was last seen. He drives to the lake and finds Margot's Pokemon keychain on the ground. The police arrive and discover Margot's car underwater and an envelope containing $2,500. A sweep of the surrounding area is conducted by the police and volunteers, but a thunderstorm slows the progress. Margot's body, however, is not found. David reviews the crime-scene photographs and notices his brother Peter's jacket in the car. He then discovers text messages between Peter and Margot suggesting that they had a sexual relationship.
When David drives to Peter's house to confront him, the latter explains that they were smoking marijuana together, and accuses David of being an incompetent father who did not notice that his daughter was suffering from depression. The meeting is interrupted when Vick calls David, telling him that a former convict named Randy Cartoff has confessed in an online video to sexually assaulting and killing Margot, and seemingly killing himself afterwards. An empty-casket funeral is arranged for Margot. As David is uploading photographs to a funeral streaming service, he notices that the website's stock photograph features the same woman as fish_n_chips' profile-picture, implying that fish_n_chips is a false identity. David attempts to call Vick to report this, but instead reaches a dispatcher who inadvertently reveals that Vick volunteered to take the case, rather than being assigned to it. David searches for Vick using Google and finds that Vick knew Cartoff through a volunteer program for ex-convicts. He proceeds to report this to the sheriff, and at the funeral, Vick is arrested.
A few days later, Vick has agreed to confess to murder and other crimes in exchange for leniency toward her son, who was using the fish_n_chips account to get close to Margot because he was attracted to her. Margot sent Robert $2,500 because she thought that he was a working-class girl whose mother was in the hospital. Robert decided to confront Margot at the lake because he felt guilty and wanted to give the money back. He surprised Margot by getting into her car, prompting her to run. While trying to explain the situation, Robert accidentally pushed Margot off a 50-foot ravine. Vick decided to cover up the incident, pushing the car into the lake and falsifying the story of the fake ID to make it appear that Margot had run away. When David discovered that Margot had gone to the lake the night she disappeared, disproving the story that Margot ran away, Vick was forced to turn Cartoff into a scapegoat.
The film then jumps back to Vick right after being arrested. As she is being transported to prison, David asks her where Margot's body is, and Vick tells him that Margot's in the ravine and that even if she had survived the fall, she couldn't have lived without water for five days. David tells the police to turn around, pointing out that a storm occurred on the third day of the search which would have provided Margot with water. At the ravine, the rescue crew discovers Margot severely injured but alive.
Two years later, Margot is shown to have applied for college to major in piano, with her acceptance status pending. Photographs and textual conversations show that David and Margot's relationship has considerably improved.
- John Cho as David Kim, Pamela Nam's husband and Margot's father
- Debra Messing as Detective Rosemary Vick
- Michelle La as Margot Kim, the daughter of David and Pamela Kim
- Kya Dawn Lau as 9-year-old Margot Kim
- Megan Liu as 7-year-old Margot Kim
- Alex Jayne Go as 5-year-old Margot Kim
- Sara Sohn as Pamela Nam Kim, David's wife and Margot's mother
- Joseph Lee as Peter Kim, David's brother
- Steven Michael Eich as Robert Vick, Detective Vick's son
- Ric Sarabia as Randy Cartoff
- Sean O'Bryan as Radio Jockey
The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2018. Shortly after, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions acquired distribution rights to the film for $5 million. It was initially scheduled to be released on August 3, 2018, but was pushed back to a limited release on August 24, 2018, before opening wide on August 31, 2018.
Searching has grossed $26 million in the United States and Canada, and $44.8 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $70.8 million.
Searching debuted to $388,769 from nine theaters in its limited opening weekend, for a per-venue average of $43,197. It expanded to 1,207 theaters on August 31, and was projected to gross $3 million over the weekend. It ended up making $6.1 million (including $7.6 million over the four-day Labor Day frame), finishing fourth at the box office. In its second weekend of wide release, the film was added to an additional 802 theaters, and grossed $4.5 million, finishing fifth. It then made another $3.2 million in its third week of wide release.
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 208 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Searching's timely premise and original execution are further bolstered by well-rounded characters brought to life by a talented cast." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it a 78% overall positive score.
Variety's Peter Debruge called the film "so unique in its approach that Sundance can only program something of its kind once before the gimmick gets old." Kate Erbland of IndieWire gave the film a grade of "B+" and called it "a true storytelling feat, married with sharp editing that makes the entire effort not only seamless, but also wholly intuitive," also saying, "Aneesh Chaganty's drama transcends its gimmick, offering up a smart and refreshing spin on movies that literally play out on small screens." Screen Rant's Chris Agar gave the film four out of five stars, and summed it up as "a suspenseful drama, buoyed by its innovative film making style and collection of strong performaces by its leads." He added, "Even if Searching didn't make effective use of its technology angle, the core story would still work due to Chaganty's script, which packs an emotional punch from its first moments and never holds back."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film four out of five stars and wrote "director Aneesh Chaganty, in an exceptional feature debut, does the impossible, building a high-voltage, white-knuckle thriller told almost exclusively through smartphones, laptop screens, browser windows and surveillance footage. Searching is a technical marvel with a beating heart at its core, which makes all the difference". Aisha Harris of The New York Times wrote, "While a somewhat silly reveal in the final act feels ripped from a Law & Order episode, the combination of clever concept reflecting the prevalence of screens in everyday life, and the pleasure of watching a typically underused Mr. Cho take on a meaty lead role make Searching a satisfying psychological thriller."
News18 India's Rajeev Masand gave the film 4/5 stars and stated, "it's difficult to talk about the plot in any detail for fear of ruining the tension and its multiple twists," though "Chaganty has elevated a standard missing-person drama into something quite extraordinary on the strength of his inventive storytelling..." Mihir Fadnavis of Firstpost wrote, "this is a very exciting film that needs to be seen on the big screen and one that seems like an avenue into what the future of cinema could be...Searching has created some sort of a blueprint to make more films like this more easily at a much faster pace."
- 2018: Alfred Sloan Prize at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
- 2018: NEXT Audience Award at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
- 2018: Sundance Institute / Amazon Studios Narrative Producer Award to producer Sev Ohanian at 2018 Sundance Film Festival
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