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Detective Vick: One, after study session Margot didn’t return home. Two, she didn’t attend school on Friday. And three, she’s been transferring funds for the last six months. We’ll handle the ground investigation, but as a parent you can help us with who your daughter talks to. Is that something you can do?
David Kim: Yes.
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Searching is a 2018 thriller film directed by Aneesh Chaganty from a script he co-wrote with Sev Ohanian. It stars John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, and Joseph Lee.

David Kim (Cho) finds that his daughter Margot (La) has not returned from a study group session, and after nearly a whole day of not hearing from her, he begins to worry and calls the police. With the help of Detective Rosemary Vick (Messing), David goes through any means possible to find out what happened to Margot.

The film is notable for being told from the POV of laptop and phone screens, much like Unfriended's take on the Found Footage subgenre did back in 2014 (though this film is by a totally different production team).

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.


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Searching contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The Movie.
    • Imagine your worst fears as a parent coming true. David Kim got the worst of it all. Loving soulmate died of disease, leaving you to raise your child alone in an estranged relationship? Check. Missing calls? Check. Sudden disappearance? Check. Possible abduction, bullying, running away, doing something fishy or even illegal behind your back? Possible incestuous relationship with your own brother? Doing drugs? Getting raped and killed? People on social media blaming you for being a bad parent? Nobody you can trust, not even the detective who’s supposedly your closest ally? Check ‘em all.
    • The Big Bad does not have it easy either. Your teenaged son possibly going to prison for involuntary manslaughter? Definitely sobering.
  • An Aesop:
    • Grief is hard to deal with, but it's important to not let one's mourning for lost loved ones overshadow one's relationships with still living ones. In particular, the death of someone you love doesn't only affect you, and reaching out to others can be a key element of processing a shared tragedy.
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    • Be careful about trusting people online whom you don't know in real life and don't take everything at face value. Social media enables people to objectify a tragedy and make comments without fear of online consequences.
  • Anti-Villain: Detective Vick, who, despite deceiving David and the public for days and killing a completely innocent person and later framing him, was doing it to protect her son from prison.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Even while dying of lymphoma, Pam looks pretty much the same, albeit pale and weak.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Abigail, Margot's classmate who outright tells David she only invited Margot to the study group session so that Abigail can get into Berkeley. After Margot is reported missing, she makes a phony tearful video saying Margot was her best friend.
    • Detective Rosemary Vick, who intentionally deceives David and the public, frames a reformed criminal for Margot's supposed rape and murder, kills said reformed criminal and disguises his murder as a suicide to tie up all loose ends and close the case prematurely, and is ready to leave Margot to die at the bottom of a cliff, just so she can prevent her son (a Stalker with a Crush responsible for Margot's disappearance) from ending up in jail.
  • Book-Ends: Early on, David tries to tell Margot that her mother would have been proud of her for trying to achieve her goal, but he is afraid to talk about the matter of his wife's death to their daughter. David tells her at the very end after they are reunited that her mother would be proud of her now.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: A non-romantic version. Throughout the film, it is shown that David is unable to have an honest talk with Margot about Pamela, since the trauma of her recent death is still too painful for him. Whenever he tries to broach the subject, he retreats, leaves things unsaid or changes the subject. This leaves Margot unable to process her own grief, which causes her to abandon her piano classes (pianos remind her of her mother), to confide to her uncle Peter instead and to start smoking weed as a coping mechanism against the pain. Peter eventually calls out David for being so caught up in his grief that he neglected his daughter's well-being. David gets over it by the time of the epilogue, finally being able to tell Margot that her mother would be proud of her.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The rainstorm that puts a stop to the second day of the search for Margot ends up saving her life. She would have died of dehydration at the bottom of the cliff otherwise, but the rainstorm gave her enough water to stave off the dehydration until her father and a rescue team could find her.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • User fish_n_chips on YouCast, who frequently texts with Margot and share many personal info with her. At first, she seems to be uninvolved in the case, until David finds out that the girl who appears in the advertisement for the MemorialOne website is the same person as the girl in fish_n_chips' profile picture. Then it turns out the girl who appears in both pictures is actually a stock photo model edited from the internet. The girl herself actually has nothing to do with it. But the account itself belongs to Detective Vick's son Robert, who makes the fake account to try to get close with Margot because he likes her.
    • One of the reformed criminals Vick enlisted to be a volunteered construction worker that appeared in the photo that David looks up to see if Vick is trustworthy, who turns out to be the same person as the supposed murderer of Margot. This leads David to suspect that Vick is up to no good.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The stock photography model used by MemorialOne just happens to be the exact same model used by fish_n_chips to catfish Margot.
  • Cool Uncle: Peter who hangs out and smokes weed with his niece, helping her open up about her feelings after her mother's death. It later becomes clear that he's making her mother's kimchi recipe because Margot was coming over.
  • Creator Cameo: In the end, we see a list of users of laptop chat application Margo uses two years after the incident. One of the users is the film's producer Timur Bekmambetov, and other producer who are involved.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The way Vick's son is presented in the movie, along with the wording of Vick's testimony at the end of the movie, seem to have been written in ways that bring to mind the Brock Turner case, specifically in how the parents of a child who attempt to keep their children out of jail because they are "special".
  • Double-Meaning Title: Searching both refers to David's frantic search for Margot and his main method of investigation: by searching through the social networks, and discovering who his daughter really is in the process.
  • Dramatic Irony: As David begins to lay into his brother with an accusation of harming Margot, he ignores his phone... which buzzes with Detective Vick repeatedly trying to tell him the “real” culprit had been apprehended.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After all the hell that David goes through to find Margot, she is found alive and the two are reunited.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Margot, who was revealed to be lonely and kept distance from her friends, ate lunch alone in the cafeteria everyday, proven with photo evidence.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • David's first interaction with his daughter includes him typing out a message broaching the subject of her late mother, but deleting it. This establishes David's primary flaw of not addressing the uncomfortable subject of the death in their family.
    • When David first meets Detective Vick, he does a quick Google search of her, revealing that she's a decorated officer, a loving mother and a volunteer. The latter two also establish that she'll do anything for her son and connect her to the "culprit" who gets pinned with Margot's murder.
  • Eureka Moment: Vick stating that there was no way for Margot to have survived for the past 5 days makes David remember the rainstorm that stopped the investigation three days prior, saving her life.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Peter is a lazy stoner, but he would never groom and sexually exploit his own niece. He is deeply hurt and angry when David levels accusations of such at him, calling it "un-fucking-speakable".
  • False Confession: Vick forces a former inmate to confess to killing Margot to throw suspicion off of her and Robert.
  • False Friend: Turns out two of Margot's classmates that she still keeps on her Facebook friends list and contact information, Abigail and Derek Ellis, are this. The former was just using Margot to get to U.C. Berkeley as she faked being a best friend, while the latter was just sexually harassing her on social media and exploiting her disappearance for his own petty ends. Margot has no idea about what either of them really are. By the time of the epilogue, however, she seems to have learned better and she doesn't want to talk to them anymore.
  • Fictional Social Network: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all shown, but the streaming site YouCast appears to be based on the real site YouNow.
  • Foil: David and Detective Vick, both of whom are a Papa Wolf and Mama Bear respectively and are willing to do anything to protect their kids. Vick goes off the deep end in doing so however, but David was pretty close to doing so himself, accusing his own brother of possibly preying on Margot and violently assaulting a teenager just for making an admittedly tasteless joke about Margot's disappearance. And while David barely knows anything about his daughter, Vick knows her son all too well.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: David and Peter Kim are brothers who are starkly different from each other. David is responsible, hardworking, and stern, while Peter has a carefree attitude and in his introduction scene is shown to be a weed-junkie and David has to reprimand him. Then it's zigzagged halfway through the movie. While David is the more responsible one, he fails to notice his own daughter's changes after Pamela's death and neglects to take care of her, while Peter is the one who's doing his best to help Margot get over the pain of losing her mother by inviting her to try smoking weed. Even if it's not exactly the best solution, he's still doing his best to help her, and he calls out David for doing nothing when the truth is out.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The news articles David pulls up at the beginning foreshadow upcoming events, such as a weather report on an upcoming storm, and a story about how a hiker was lost for nine days before being found by a search party.
    • David and Peter's FaceTime call is interrupted by a doorbell, followed by Peter quickly and awkwardly hanging up. This scene has more significance later on when David finds texts messages between Margot and Peter, leading the audience to think Peter had something to do with Margot's disappearance. It turns out that Peter was a Red Herring, and that the interruption was most likely Margot coming over to get high with him.
    • Vick tells David about how she once covered for her son when he made up a fake charity to scam people out of their money, showing how willing she is to protect him. She covers for him again after he's responsible for Margot's disappearance.
    • A picture early on in the film identifies Margot's school mascot as the Catfish. The climax of the movie involves revealing that the attacker created a false online persona to get closer to Margot, an act otherwise known as catfishing.
    • Pay very close attention when David calls Detective Vick about Margot's connection to Barbosa Lake. Vick brings it up before David does, and he never catches this error on her part.
    • Furthermore, every time we see Robert in person prior to the reveal, it's when he's anxiously checking in on his mom when she's yelling about the case. Why would a detective's son interrupt his mom constantly during frantic/heated work calls? Well, he knows that the case is actually about him, and he can't bear not to know what's unfolding in the moment.
    • When David goes through Pam's old files on Margot's grade school friends, one of them is of a boy named Robbie Abolt who has a crush on Margot. Robert is Detective Vick's son, and has been stalking Margot for years and is responsible for her disappearance. Pam's notes also mention that his mother is in the SVPD, and that she's divorced, which is why his last name in the file is not Vick.
    • When David first logs into YouCast, fish_n_chips logs in almost immediately, and then just as quickly logs off. This is Robbie Abolt panicking about seeing the supposedly dead Margot online, and then logging off. If fish_n_chips had just been an unrelated online friend of Margot's, you might expect her to ask David who he is. When David browses Margot's cast history, the first time fish_n_chips interacts with Margot, she doesn't have a profile picture. This is because he created the false identity after his first interaction with her.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Interestingly enough, there appears to be an Alien Invasion subplot occurring while David is searching for his daughter, but it's only shown in news articles and on the margins, and has nothing to do with the overall plot so you have to pay very close attention to spot its trace elements.
  • {{GIR:}}: fish_n_chips is actually a guy. Particularly, he's Robbie Abolt, Detective Vick's son.
  • Hate Sink: Margot's classmate Derek Ellis is an unrelenting jackass who spams her pictures with crude comments and then has the audacity to joke about her being with him because he says he's her pimp.
  • Heroic BSoD: David collapses to the floor sobbing and wailing uncontrollably when the call comes in that the suspect was found and confessed to murdering Margot.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: Detective Vick specifically volunteered for the case to hide her own involvement in it.
  • I Will Find You: David will stop at nothing to find his missing daughter.
  • Idiot Ball: Somehow David didn't think to try using Find My iPhone.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Easy to miss, because even David never realizes it, but when he calls Detective Vick in the middle of the night to tell her about Margot's connection to Barbosa Lake, one of the first things out of her mouth is "Is she at the lake?" without any suggestion on his part that a lake was involved.
  • Instant Humiliation: Just Add YouTube!: David flips out on Derek after seeing his gross comments online. The fight gets uploaded to YouTube where David is labeled "Crazy Dad".
  • Internet Counterattack: David is subjected to this after his daughter’s disappearance hits the news.
  • In-Universe Camera: A slight variation. Every single shot in the movie is done from the perspective of a screen of some kind. Almost all of the camera shots were seemingly taken from webcams and phone cameras, with the remainder from news reports viewed on a computer(and one a police interrogation room camera).
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: David's brother Peter, who's a weed-addict and shares it with his niece Margot behind David's back, but only because Peter wanted to help Margot get over her mother's death and other personal problems. He also has a point when he said that David didn't really try to understand how Margot really feels, which is part of the reasons why David has such a hard time finding Margot in the first place. He's also seen participating in the search for Margot at the lake and doing his best to assist David in the investigation, so it shows that for all his other qualities, he really does care for Margot.
  • Knight Templar Parent: David Kim is accused of being this by people on social networks after his personal investigation of Margot's case gone too aggressive. Detective Vick herself is also revealed to be one. She will stop at nothing to prevent her son from going to prison, even if it means letting an innocent child die and framing a reformed criminal for the crime he didn't commit and possibly murdering him after his Fake Confession.
  • Living a Double Life: As the film unfolds, David does his own investigation alongside the official and finds that he barely knows anything about his daughter, from her friends and activities. Along the way, he found out Margot has been stealing his money under the guise of paying for piano lessons, may have had a secret group of friends he didn't know about, possibly ran away from home with a fake ID to meet up with an online friend. Then it later becomes subverted towards the end of the film as Vick's plan unravels and Margot just turns out to be a good kid, just very lonely and was even stealing the money to help with fish_n_chips's purported financial situation.
  • The Lost Lenore: Pamela Kim, whose death devastated David and affected his entire relationship with his daughter. As part of the hell David goes through, he is constantly running across pictures, videos and other reminders of his beloved wife as he searches through the computer.
  • Missing Child: Margot is sixteen when she goes missing.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: David suspects that his brother Peter might have had something to do with Margot's disappearance after reading suggestive messages between them that imply they are hiding something from David, but it turns out that they were talking about Peter giving Margot weed.
  • My Greatest Failure: Even though he has no direct involvement in the matter (and it's eventually revealed to be a lie from Vick), David sees Margot's "murder" as this, thinking that it could have been prevented if he had been more attentive and caring toward her in her time of need. As such, when she is found alive, David finally decides to be more open toward her in order to mend their relationship.
  • New Media Are Evil: Zig-zagged. While the dark side of the Internet is present, David’s access to his daughter’s social media allows him to make far more headway searching for her than he might otherwise. Other modern technology also plays a part in his search.
  • Never Found the Body: Only Margot's car and money were found in the lake, giving hope that she may still be alive.
  • Never Suicide: It's hinted that Randy Cartoff, the convict who made the "confession," may not have killed himself. When asked whether Cartoff really committed suicide, Vick doesn't answer.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Many Real Life locations of San Jose, California had their names changed or mixed together for fictional stand-ins in the movie.
    • The name of Margot's high school, Evercreek High, combines the names of two local high schools, Evergreen Valley and Sliver Creek.
    • The "Oakfair Mall" where David confronts Derek uses the names from Westfield Oakridge and Westfield Valley Fair, the latter located in the neighboring town of Santa Clara.
    • Peter's favorite hockey team, the San Jose Fins, is a stand-in for the real life San Jose Sharks NHL team.
    • The Silicon Valley Police Department is an obvious analogue for San Jose's own police department (and possibly for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office as well since the majority of Silicon Valley is rooted in most of the county).
  • Not Me This Time: Randy Cartoff is a convicted felon, but he had nothing to do with Margot's disappearance.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Vick's explanation that her son Robert was the "fish_n_chips" that Margot was talking to, and not another girl as David has suspected, gives the YouWatch videos he saw earlier a different view.
  • Parents as People: A big part of the movie. David is a loving father, but when his wife Pamela dies, he's so consumed with his own grief, he is unable to help Margot deal with her own grief, and they become distant. All of which hinders the search for Margot throughout the movie because David knows so little about her and has to get information about her from second-hand sources, a couple of whom turn out to be unreliable.
  • Police are Useless: Zigzagged. When David reports Margot's disappearance to the authority, he finds that the state he's in, California, has a statistic of resolved missing person cases below 50%, implying that the police forces there are ineffective in finding missing people. When Vick, a seemingly very dedicated detective is assigned to the case, David is a bit more reassured. As the case goes on, however, only David's personal investigation manages to make any progress on finding Margot and what happened to her, while Vick just gives him some clues here and there. There is a reason for the uselessness: Vick was behind the whole thing. She had been leaving fake trails for David to chase and orchestrated the entire case in such a way that no one will know what actually happened to Margot. When David finds out, he calls a squad of police to arrest her then later assist him in rescuing Margot once her location is found.
  • Precision F-Strike: Peter drops one after David accuses him of preying on Margot.
    Peter: You come in here and accuse me of something UN-FUCKING-SPEAKABLE and you're wondering what kind of family I AM?!
  • Red Herring: Several of them.
    • Early on in the investigation, David discovers that Margot has been converting cash to online money and sent it all to some sort of shell account. Detective Vick says this is a way to launder money, suggesting that Margot has some sort of criminal enterprise going on. It later turns out that Margot just donated it to her online friend fish_n_chips, and the account has been deleted by Detective Vick to erase the evidence.
    • Derek Ellis is a Hate Sink who plays Teens Are Monsters pretty straight, and David has every reason in the world to suspect that he may have something to do with Margot's disappearance. Turns out he has nothing to do with it, he's just being an asshole about the whole situation.
    • David's brother Peter, whom David finds his disturbing messages with Margot and mistake him for being a pedophile preying on her. He had nothing to do with her disappearance, he's just sharing weed with her to offer her a way to ease her mind off her own personal issues.
    • The user "fish_n_chips" on YouWatch, a young girl who apparently makes several fake aliases and sites to take advantage of people in distress. Turns out the girl shown in those accounts and sites is actually a photoshopped stock photo model used as a roleplay gone horribly wrong. The girl herself has nothing to do with anything.
    • The criminal who confessed to raping and killing Margot before "killing" himself. Turns out Detective Vick, in her desperation to protect her son, framed him for the crime in order to throw the investigation off the tracks and end the case prematurely.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the second watching, a lot of things Vick does actually foreshadows her actual role as the mastermind behind the plot. She seems very eager, almost too eager even, in trying to solve Margot's case, in California where the rate of resolved missing people cases is below 50%. When David calls her in the middle of the night to inform her that he follows Margot's trail to the lake, Vick immediately goes to the location not even changing her clothes and telling her son Robert that she'll take care of everything. Also, after David assaults Derek at the theater, she orders David to stay put and not participating in the investigation further. In the first case, she immediately goes to the lake because she's afraid that David will find out what her son did to Margot, and in the second case, she cuts David loose after realizing that David will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his daughter and he could find out the truth.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: David finds some disturbing messages between Margot and Peter and assumed that they did something terrible behind his back. He was correct, but for the wrong reason. David initially assumed that the two are in an incestuous relationship, but in reality, Peter was just sharing his weed with Margot and was not responsible for her disappearance.
  • Social Media Is Bad: Played with. The bad side of social media is shown — Margot's schoolmates post about her disappearance for sympathy points although none of them were close to her, and a video of David attacking one of her schoolmates goes viral to his detriment. However, it's only through social media that David is able to make any headway in his search at all.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The web address "tvtropes.org/pmwiki.php/Main/Searching" (you know, this very wiki's page for the film, at least the main page) pops up when David is typing "tumblr" in his URL address bar for a brief moment.
    • Laura Barnes is one of the trending topics for Facebook, seen earlier on in the movie. This is not surprising considering how its producer Timur Bekmambetov is also the producer of that film.
    • While one of the trending topics for Reddit reads "Is Margot Kim Gone Girl Crazy?"
    • Margot’s high school mascot is the Catfish.
    • M. Night Shyamalan's name is featured in the Facebook trending bar. Word of God admitted that M. Night Shyamalan inspired him to get into filmmaking.
    • During David's Google search of Vick, you can see results come up for Detective Rosa Diaz in the search bar.
    • Of course, there are a few to Pokémon, which Margot is a fan of. Her Poké Ball keychain is a plot point.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Vick's son Robert is this toward Margot, having catfished her for months just to talk to her.
  • Stealth Pun: The username of the account catfishing Margot is fish_n_chips.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Vick testifies that her son insisted that he was going to try to owe up to fooling Margot, but considering Vick's overzealousness to protect her son from consequences and way of excusing that he fought against Margot, it's likely there was more to the story that she'd be very willing to overlook or leave out.
  • Wham Shot: To the public, the case is resolved, if tragically... and then David notices that Margot's friend on YouWatch, whom Vick had told him was legit and had an alibi, has the same face as a stock photo model, meaning Vick had been lying about that...and possibly everything else.
  • Wham Line:
    • The operator at the police station telling David that Vick volunteered to get on the case to find Margot, as opposed to him being told earlier that Vick was assigned to it.
    • And much beforehand, David calls up the model used as the profile pic of "fish_n_chips" account on YouWatch and asks her questions about knowing Margot, only for the girl to tell him she doesn't know any Margot. When David tells her what's basically happened with Margot on YouWatch, the model (whose name is Hannah) replies with:
      Hannah:...What's YouWatch?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Neither Vick nor her son's fates are seen/read at the end but presumably both are arrested for their crimes.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Detective Vick chews out David after his own personal investigation has gone too aggressive which results in a brawl between him and Derek Ellis that lands the latter in a hospital before deciding to cut David loose from the case entirely. It's later revealed to be a ploy. Vick was behind the whole case, so the reason she cut David loose is that she realizes David will stop at nothing to find his daughter and the truth will be out.
    • Peter calls out David for neglecting Margot's well-being after her mother's death, which ends up with David barely knowing anything about Margot and causes her to confide with Peter instead and starts to smoke weed to ease the pain.

"I didn’t know her. I didn’t know my daughter."
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