The ingeniously high-concept whodunit Searching isn't the first movie to turn the big screen into a computer screen, to make you feel as if you're eavesdropping on online conversations and surfing the Internet alongside its characters. You might have seen the 2014 horror movie Unfriended, where a group chat suddenly turns deadly — basically the Skype version of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.
As a thriller, Searching is less violent, more compassionate and equally gripping. As a sustained technical exercise, it's remarkable: It takes the mundane details of your average computer session — from video chats to browser windows — and spins them into a taut, surprising, sometimes uncomfortably voyeuristic crime drama.
This may be the first feature written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty, a 27-year-old Bay Area native and former Google employee, but the intricacy of his visual design is matched by a talent for old-fashioned suspense filmmaking. Anyone who can wring tension simply from the pulsing colors of a screensaver clearly knows what he's doing.
Everything we see unfolds through the eyes of David Kim, a Silicon Valley widower played by John Cho. Because we're almost always looking at David's screen, we see his face only when it shows up on his webcam, like when he's FaceTiming with his 16-year-old daughter, Margot, played by Michelle La.