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Unique visuals and innovative technique mark the suspense of “Searching”

Updated: Nov 30, 2018


David Kim (John Cho) desperately seeks clues to the disappearance of his 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La). David examines video clips from her YouCast streaming account for answers. (Frame shots courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)


Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug and sexual references, strong language and a child in peril; Streaming Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: “Changing the Language of Film”

THIS HIGHLY praised mystery/thriller originated as an idea for an eight-minute film.

It’s the brainchild of Aneesh Chaganty, a 27-year-old former Google employee, and his partner Sev Ohanian, who met at USC's Film School. Their first collaboration was a two-minute short, called “Google Glass,” that went viral and got Chaganty a job producing Google commercials for two years in New York City.

As a short, “Searching” was pitched to Bazelevs, an independent production company headed by Russian-Kazakh filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted,” “Night Watch”). He envisioned a much grander storyline as a full-length feature, says Ohanian, during the featurette “Changing the Language of Film.” The production company planned to give the young filmmakers carte blanche on the project. The duo would write, produce and direct it, while Bazelevs would simply pay the bills.

Chaganty’s first reaction was an emphatic “no,” while Ohanian told his partner, “Dude, are you like freaking kidding me? These guys are offering you, as a first-time director, all this money!”

"Searching" uses hundreds of computer windows to tell the story of the Kim family.

Margot's first piano lesson with her mom Pam.

TOP: Margot enters fourth grade. BELOW: Pam discovers she has Lymphoma a form of cancer and two years later she passes away, which has a huge impact on Margot.

The guys continued to have doubts, wondering if it was too much of a stretch or a gimmick to expand the storyline. But they each, independently, wrote a working script for the opening sequence. They soon discovered their storylines were the same. “It felt character-driven and emotional and thrilling,” says Chaganty. The rest of the movie came together quickly. “It felt like we had a reason to exist.”

“Searching” has a unique visual style, mostly captured within the cyber world of computer or cell phone screens of emails, social media, FaceTime and YouTube. The central plot is the harrowing story of a parent’s worst nightmare. David Kim’s (Star Trek’s John Cho) 16-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La) stays out late at a study group in San Jose, and the next morning she’s not to be found.

After numerous phone calls to her iPhone and no response, David hacks into her laptop and soon discovers Margot really doesn’t have any close friends. She had become isolated since her mother’s death following a recurrence of cancer.

David frantically calls students who attended the AP biology study group and learns that his daughter had left early. David also finds out that Margot, a talented pianist, had dropped out of her $100/week lessons months before. The money for the lessons had been deposited into her bank account, but then was recently withdrawn.

Debra Messing (“Will & Grace”) plays police detective Rosemary Vick, who heads the convoluted investigation, which becomes an ongoing top story on local Silicon Valley TV.

“To sit and watch it, the way it was edited … it really is going to change the vocabulary of film, by incorporating these brand new techniques.” ― Debra Messing


Everything was captured in HD resolution via DV Mini-cameras, GoPros, drones, news helicopters and Chaganty’s personal iPhone, which was used as the primary camera for the film, so the Blu-ray resolution is the perfect platform. The overall color palette and contrast are solid, a couple steps below the visuals from high-end cameras of 2.8K and higher.

David and Margot at her high school in San Jose, Calif.

Margot FaceTime's with her dad from the house where the AP biology study group met. She leaves the group early and disappears into the night.

David initiated a missing persons report and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) was assigned to the case.

David starts to call every name on Margot's FaceBook and Instagram accounts to find leads into her disappearance.

TOP: One of Magot's social media photo albums. BELOW: Detective Vick sends an email that Margot is not in jail, but provides information from traffic cams that showed her driving east on Pacheco Pass Highway after 11 p.m. And, David discovers a number of social media comments from a profile fish_n_chips.


The six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is primarily front and center with dialogue and Torin Borrowdale’s electronic score featuring a strong piano underline. The surround and bass effects are balanced around the room with good clarity.


During the main featurette, Chaganty describes how they hired film editors, who began assembling “Searching” seven weeks before they actually started shooting. First, they made hundreds of screen-captures from the Internet, iMessages and other apps, and then took photos of the director. Chaganty played the role of the father, daughter, the cop — everyone. Then they plugged his performance into the different computer windows. Soon they had an hour-and-40-minute cut of the entire movie (starring Chaganty), which became their blueprint.

The disc and streaming extras also include a short featurette, “Searching for Easter Eggs,” highlighting dozens of hidden messages and clues left within the different computer windows to help you uncover the plot; and Chaganty and Ohanian provide a commentary with the insider’s scoop to all of their tricks, calling the opening sequence “‘Up’ meets a Google commercial” — a reference to the family montage of Pixar’s “Up.”

“Searching” is a clever and suspenseful ride, as well as a wakeup call for parents.

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Margot's car is discovered in a lake near Pacheco Pass Highway.

Live TV coverage of Margot's disappearance.

An AMBER Alert is broadcasted on TV, radio, cell phones and highway signs.





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