The aptly titled movie Searching is a film for our times. In an era where youngsters haven’t touched a physical newspaper for the past five years, when they spend more time on the mobile monitor than looking at the real world. Searching plays out almost entirely on-screen with a nearly all-Asian cast, and most of the script is not voiced dialogue but through apps like Facetime and Skype, Google searches, Instagram and Facebook posts. 

When David Kim (John Cho) realises his quiet, studious teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) is missing, he starts a search for her. He files a police report, but starts a search of his own, going through her contact records and chats on their shared computer. Telling you whether or not David finds the culprit and saves his daughter would be a spoiler, but suffice to say that the ending is unexpected and dramatic, as every good mystery should be. The movie has also received praise for its Asian-American cast, the first time they have headlined a Hollywood thriller. But much more than all these factors, it is the contemporary storytelling style that makes Searching stand out. 

The movie goes virtual right from the start: the opening scene is of a computer logging in. Calendar entries and reminders tell us how Margot is doing at school, and also how her mother’s health is progressing. When Margot creates, postpones, and finally deletes the entry ‘Mom comes home’, we realise the tragedy, but without an accompanying melodrama. If this sounds a little impersonal, that is what the world has become as the lines between online and offline get blurred.

David does not recognise the daughter he knows in her online persona with her intimacies and random people she chats with. This and other paradoxes ring true to our experiences of how social media exaggerates and distorts our perceptions. As the search progresses, sensational lists appear on gossip websites, including ‘21 reasons why David could have killed his daughter’, and an unflattering photo of David soon makes the rounds, labeled ‘Father of the Year’ – indicating the trolling phenomenon. Teens who were never particularly close to Margot post teary videos claiming to be her best friend, to thunderous (virtual) applause.

Directed by one-time Google filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, the movie gets all its technology tones right, from the ubiquitous sounds of computers opening and ring tones of various communication apps, to David not knowing the new age social media like tumblr (he googles ‘tumbler’). Technology-based movies are not new in Hollywood, nor is the sci-fi genre. But Searching is part of a new generation of movies where the technology showcased is real, but its content is virtual. 

Sci-fi is not about aliens or futuristic worlds any more. In 2013, Her featured Scarlett Johansson’s voice as an alluring artificial intelligence assistant that the protagonist falls in love with. In 2016, we saw Unfriended, where a ghost haunts online chats. Since 2011, Black Mirror has been projecting how the technologies we know could grow to control our lives, in an eerily familiar manner. Searching is part of this genre, where sci-fi is not about unrealistic fantasies but about how the technology we live with is changing the way we live and process information. And it is all the more scary because it is true.

Searching is not just for youngsters and techno buffs. And if it does not make it to Nepali screens, readers of this review can always search and find it online!