While you stare at the screen of this low budget but stylish thriller, you’ll be staring at a lot of screens within it. Screens on desktop computers, on laptops, on phones, on televisions, from surveillance cameras. There are going to be a lot of detractors who dismiss this as another gimmick film. And yes, constructing a movie around one central concept does earn it gimmick status. But this one should also have some folks championing it.
Told from the point of view of its characters watching those screens, audiences who are disposed to get caught up in it will do so right away, then forget about any clever trickery and get involved in the story.
The plot is kind of standard, a low-rent version of the sort of movie Liam Neeson has been making over and over again in recent years. Recently widowed father David Kim (John Cho) is trying to move on with life, but still sadly watches family videos of happier times. He’s close to his 15-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La), who is also adjusting to life without mom. David’s brother Peter (Joseph Lee) does what he can to help out, and you get a feeling that this family will eventually be OK.
Until Margot who, like most teens in America, is addicted to every form of social media, stops returning dad’s FaceTime messages and texts and all sorts of attempts at communication. She doesn’t show up for her piano lessons, she doesn’t come home for dinner. Margot goes missing. And dad, already distraught, gets concerned, then panicky. His call to the cops results in a return call from Detective Vick (Debra Messing, a weak acting link in the film; she’s either just not into it or miscast).
In short order, there are two investigations going on: The detective’s, though initially we don’t get to see the inner workings of what she’s doing, and dad’s, which plops him down in front of those computer screens — his own and the laptop that Margot left behind — trying to find any contacts and acquaintances that could lead him to her. But all he finds is that, oddly, she doesn’t have any friends.
First-time feature director Aneesh Chaganty, who also co-wrote the script, has a nice approach to slowly building the tension with dialogue, facial reactions, and all of those different screens, and he’s aided in amping up the suspense by first time feature composer Torin Borrowdale’s quietly throbbing electronic score. The film remains firmly in mystery mode, but comes up for a few breaths of fresh air with some sparkling bits of humor, the best of which is a perfectly placed Justin Bieber joke.
Plot complications set in as dad gets deeper into the social media scene, finding himself caught up in the (in my opinion) really weird world of YouCast. The cop, of course, wants dad to back off, so she can do her work. Dad, of course, thinks she isn’t working hard enough, so becomes even more ensconced in his own searching (Aha! There’s that title!). Leads turn to dead ends which, in turn, end up heading toward more leads, and the visual aspect of the film gets ever busier.
Watching it play out, viewers will wonder the same things dad does: Was she abducted? Did she just run away? On the way to finding the answer — yes, there is an answer — Cho covers a lot of emotional ground, from being drained by all that’s happening, to freaking out and displaying a pent-up temper. The film ends up taking some strange twists, all the while teasing viewers with multiple MacGuffins and slamming the concept of social media. It stretches just a little too far at the very end, but it should still work as a crowd pleaser.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sey Ohanian; directed by Aneesh Chaganty
With John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La