Dir: Aneesh Chaganty. With: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La. 102 mins. Cert: 12A
A lowish bar has been set, but this is the most carefully considered entry in the laptop-based thriller cycle booted up by 2014’s Unfriended. Again, everything we see unfolds as windows within Windows: its crafty opening montage – establishing the idyllic day-to-day existence of one Asian-American family via uploaded selfies – might have recalled a wildly sappy Microsoft ad were it not for the slow reveal of one character’s cancer diagnosis. The screen becomes a site of further tensions after college-age daughter Margot goes missing, leaving devoted, straight-laced dad David (John Cho) home alone, poring over a trail of pixelated breadcrumbs – Facebook photos, PayPal transactions, Pokémon webcasts – in a bid to bring her home.
Former Google promo director Aneesh Chaganty complicates this cherchez la femme game with the fact Margot’s curated online persona bears little resemblance to lived reality; as the excellent tagline puts it, David can’t find out where she is until he finds out who she is. Satnav trajectories, online news footage and (a cheat, this) security-cam footage helps expand the film’s search parameters, and some nuance has been found within the central, organising gimmick. It changes the meaning when David replaces the exclamation mark at the end of one furious Messenger tirade with a full stop, and it goes to character that dad should be running a PC, where his offspring evidently preferred a Mac.
The film is a bit PC itself, operating somewhere between ploddingly dependable and frowningly conservative, pitching itself at technophobe parents who may themselves have asked David’s high court judge-like “What is a Tumblr?” (Those with fond memories of Cho’s participation in the Harold & Kumar comedies will instantly feel very old.) One limitation is visual: the clean lines of social media never really inspire much in the way of real cinematic dread. Chaganty’s tab-toggling is pacy enough, but he gets pedantic about tying up unfinished digital business, and Unfriended’s pulse-raising wildness is beyond him. Mostly, Searching holds the moderate, passive appeal of watching a competent player ace a round of Minesweeper, each click bringing us closer to the desired resolution.
Searching opens in cinemas nationwide tomorrow.