Those of you that go to the Film Insider Series that Tonya Mantooth and the San Diego International Film Festival present, were lucky enough to see this movie months ago. And lucky to have producers, and one of the stars of the film, in attendance to take questions from the audience.
I thought everything involving kids on computers had been done on screen. Going back to Matthew Broderick setting off a near nuclear meltdown in War Games back in the ‘80s, to kids being killed by ghosts in the machines that are haunting and taunting them. We’ve gotten plenty of stories involving men tricking teen girls on the internet. So I went into this movie not expecting much, and being blown away by how crafty a thriller it was. My wife and I couldn’t stop talking about it on the way home.
A few weeks ago, we heard all about how Crazy Rich Asians has an all Asian cast. Well, I hope the filmmakers of this get credit for casting John Cho in the lead. It’s a meaty role, and he shows he has the acting chops. And it’s so much more refreshing than seeing a Josh Duhamel or Gerard Butler searching for their blonde, cheerleader daughter.
This is 27-year-old writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s first film (he worked for Google making videos). And instead of relying strictly on the gimmick we heard about this movie (how everything is filmed through the computer cameras), he gave us characters we care about. It’s nicely paced, so we never feel bored as the father scrolls through his daughter’s computer reading posts.
The film starts, in a manner that reminded me of Up! That film hooked us emotionally by telling the story of the old guy and his wife losing a baby, and eventually passing away. In this, we learn about the Kim family history. And since we know we’re going to be told this story through computer things, it’s the perfect way to do this.
David (John Cho) isn’t quite a helicopter parent, but he is concerned that his only child Margot (Michelle La) do well in school. It’s nice that he’s a little hipper, and more of a disciplinarian than the dad in Eighth Grade.
When Margot disappears, the police are called. You think it’s going to go down the usual tropes, but it surprisingly doesn’t. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) quickly establishes herself as someone that is up for the task of finding the teen, and she knows what she’s doing. A brilliant touch was having David, who is scouring his daughter’s posts and communication online, also spends a few seconds Googling the detective to find out about her background. It helps that they have nice chemistry together (well, if you can call them FaceTiming each other as together), and it feels very authentic when she grows frustrated with the things he’s doing in his search.
It was so fascinating to watch this, and we look at the various open windows, wondering what might be clues to this girl’s disappearance. And feeling the same frustration this father might feel, when some leads are just dead ends.
It’s nice that it never gets preachy about online this or that. Heck, the online stuff in this did just as much good as bad, in terms of the dad tracking down his daughter. I mean, we’re all online now and it’s pointless to do any lecturing. And any parent that has a brain, hopefully doesn’t let a child under 12 have computer access without them around (side note: I had a fight with my daughter and her mom about this a decade ago).
It’s amazing that a first time director could make a movie so much better than Steven Soderbergh did with Unsane earlier this year (although both films had clunky resolutions).
There were a few scenes we’ve gotten in other movies. Things starting to be typed out, but then erased. Yet it was done better here.
There are twists, which other movies have obviously done. Yet they’re done better here.
There might have been only a couple scenes in the entire movie I didn’t care for (one being a girl in a study group, who admits to not knowing the missing girl that well; later she’s on the news crying, saying it was one of her best friends). But there were so many terrific scenes. Even subtle scenes that were just interesting to me, but might not be to anybody else. One of those has David in a conference call for work, but slyly texting the entire time.
Listening to the producers and editors at the Film Inside Series talk about this, we learned they filmed in a mere 13 days, but took a year editing and two years working on the entire film. It then got picked up at Sundance, and that followed by Sony picking it up. Be glad it did, because that’s going to give you a chance to see what could be the most exciting thriller of the year. It’s a good old fashioned mystery told on today’s digital screens.
4 stars out of 5.