Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Aneesh Chaganty|
|Music by||Torin Borrowdale|
|Cinematography||Juan Sebastian Baron|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$75.5 million|
Searching is a 2018 American thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty in his feature debut and written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Set entirely on computer screens and smartphones, 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 $75 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 is shown looking through photographs and videos of his daughter Margot and his wife Pamela at various times in Margot's childhood as a happy, close family. He also has a single brother, Peter, who is seemingly less responsible than David, but they appear on generally good terms. Pam finds out she has lymphoma, and after a brief battle, dies while Margot is a young teen. Margot is then shown a bit older and now in high school, seemingly making the most of things but perhaps becoming somewhat distant.
One night, Margot goes to a friend's house for a 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 cancelled her lessons six months ago. David discovers that Margot had been pocketing the money for the lessons and transferring it to a now-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 accounts, including Facebook, and speaks to her contacts, but discovers that Margot had distanced herself from her peers 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 that Margot may have deliberately run away.
David, unconvinced, discovers that Margot has been using a livestreaming site called YouCast and that she frequently spoke to a young woman called "fish_n_chips". Vick investigates this, and reports back that fish_n_chips is innocent, having been sighted in Pittsburgh at the time of the disappearance. 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 Pokémon keychain on the ground. The police arrive and discover Margot's car underwater and an envelope containing the piano lesson money but not Margot. A sweep of the surrounding area is conducted by the police and volunteers, but a local thunderstorm slows the progress. Margot's body, however, is still not found.
David reviews a site which displays the crime-scene photographs and notices Peter's jacket inside. He then discovers text messages between Peter and Margot hinting that they were having an incestuous relationship. When David drives to Peter's house to confront him, the latter explains that they were only smoking marijuana and confiding in each other, and accuses David of being an incompetent father who did not notice that his daughter was suffering from depression and did not talk to her about her mother’s death. The meeting is interrupted when Vick calls David, telling him that a former convict named Randy Cartoff has confessed in an online video to raping and killing Margot, committing suicide 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’s profile-picture. David contacts the woman in question, a prolific model, and confirms she has no connection to fish_n_chips. Attempting to call Vick to report this, David instead reaches a dispatcher who indirectly reveals that Vick volunteered to take the case as opposed to being assigned to it. David Googles Vick and finds that she knew Cartoff through a volunteer program for ex-convicts. He reports 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 and Margot’s classmate Robert, who was using the online identity fish_n_chips to get close to Margot because he was obsessively attracted to her. Margot sent Robert the money thinking that Robert was a working-class girl whose mother was in the hospital due to cancer. Robert felt guilty and wanted to give the money back, so he decided to confront Margot at the lake. Robert surprised Margot by getting into her car while she was smoking marijuana, prompting her to run, and in the ensuing scuffle Robert accidentally pushed Margot off a 50-foot ravine. Vick decided to cover up the incident, pushing the car into the lake, creating the fake false ID and the fish_n_chips’s alibi as a waitress in Pittsburgh. When David found the car, proving that Margot could not have run away, Vick was forced to turn Cartoff into a fall guy, murdering him in the process. The film then jumps back to Vick right after being arrested. As she is being transported into custody, David asks her where Margot's body is, and Vick responds that Margot is in the ravine, and suggested that even if she had survived the fall, she could not have lived five days without water. David tells the police to turn the car around, pointing out that the storm would have provided Margot with water. At the ravine, the rescue crew discovers Margot severely injured but alive.
Two years later, a wheelchair-bound Margot is shown to have applied for college to major in piano, with her acceptance status as pending. Through texts, David tells Margot that Pamela would have been proud of her, something he neglected to do at the start of the film.
- John Cho as David Kim, Peter’s brother, Pamela Nam's husband and Margot's father
- Debra Messing as Detective Rosemary Vick, Robert’s mother
- Michelle La as Margot Kim, the daughter of David and Pamela Kim and Peter’s niece
- 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 and Margot’s uncle
- Steven Michael Eich as Robert Vick, Detective Vick's son
- Ric Sarabia as Randy Cartoff, ex-convict
- Sean O'Bryan as Radio Jockey
The idea of the film was initially conceived as an 8 minute short film. When Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian pitched the concept to The Bazelevs Company, they declined their offer to make it a short and instead gave them the offer to make it into a movie. While Ohanian was very open to the offer, Chaganty was hesitant since he believed a movie would be stretching the concept and feel too gimmicky. But after coming up with the intro, they felt like the concept for the movie would work. The character, Rosemary Vick, was named after Rosemary's Baby and The Shield's character Vic Mackey.
The film was shot over various devices. These include GoPros, drone helicopters, news helicopters, mini dv cameras, webcams, and even director Aneesh Chaganty's iPhone, which became the main camera. The scenes between Cho's David Kim and Debra Messing's Rosemary Vick were all shot in one house, with Cho on one side of the house and Messing at the other. Actress Michelle La described the filming process as a "logistical nightmare".
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 $49.4 million in other territories, for a total worldwide gross of $75.5 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 239 reviews, with an average rating of 7.47/10. 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 performances 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 P. 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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