If you saw the excellent 2018 Searching (see review below), then you’ll recognize the format and set-up to this crazy style of who-done-it mystery that’s all shown to us on Mac computer screens, videos, cellphone FaceTime’s, TV’s, and more. Better get your reading glasses out, you’re gonna need ’em!
Move over Jessica Fletcher, have a sit Miss Marple, take a siesta Nancy Drew, ’cause there’s a new detective in town and her name is June Allen (Storm Reid). After losing her father, this rebellious 18-year-old relies on her MacBook and close internet chat friend, Veena (Megan Suri) for friendship. Looks like her mom, Grace (Nia Long), has other plans and that involves taking off to Columbia with her new boyfriend, Kevin Lin (Ken Leung). After a party-filled weekend, June goes to pick up her mom at the airport . . . but she never arrives. Hmmm. Concerned, she calls their hotel in Cartagena and finds out they already left! Uh-oh! Going into panic mode, June contacts the FBI and agent Elijah Park (Daniel Henney), but he is having trouble getting information about her mom’s whereabouts.
This is when June starts going down the rabbit hole and, with some help from Veena, goes full detective and starts to do their own investigating, even if it means doing illegal hacking into other people’s Google and Facebook accounts. Using WhatsApp, June contacts a Columbian handyman named Javier (Joaquim DeAlmeida) to help her search the hotel and other places there. One thing is for sure, if there was ever a college course given for computer hacking and deciphering, this plucky teenager would get a Master’s Degree. Through sheer tenacity, perseverance, and ignoring the FBI & police, June finds potentially damning information against Kevin Lin and runs with it.
But once she pulls on that piece of yarn, more and more of the sweater begins to unravel until everything she knew (or thought she knew) is being questioned. Where is her mom? Is Kevin who he says he is? And what about her mom’s best friend and lawyer (Amy Landecker)? What is she hiding? Written and directed by Nicholas D. Johnson & Will Merrick, this marks their very first screenplay and directorial debut! Not bad for a couple of newbies! It’s full of the same nail-biting suspense and Hitchcockian thrills that was present in the previous film. Although I’m not all that surprised, as both were involved in the making of 2018’s Searching, so this was a natural progression for them. They even include a snippet from the first movie in their opening. The writing is sharp, clever, and has some rather nice twists and turns; ones that I didn’t see coming. And it has that all-too-important third-act surprise that was pretty clever.
Another major selling point is the cast. Storm Reid redeems herself from that awful A Wrinkle in Time 2018 Disney film, and gives a solid performance that looks like she’s never acting; something that’s difficult to pull off. Constantly on a computer screen or someone’s phone, you get the impression you are eavesdropping on her private life as 95% of this movie is all on video feed screens. We see her go through anguish, anger, despair, hope, and all in just about real-time. Lin is excellent as the iffy boyfriend with a past and Nia Long has some great moments as a caring, but exasperated mother. And DeAlmeida is just wonderful as the helpful Javi, a nice change for him as he usually plays a bad guy! I managed to catch this movie early as part of a special preview deal, so you’re gonna have to wait until the 20th for it to be released. Sorry!
**Opens in theaters January 20th
Do you like solving mysteries? So do I. Shot in Windows format (all computer screens, iPhone screens, text messages, video surveillance footage, etc), nothing is filmed with a regular camera, so to speak. This gives you a feeling of real-time adventure and claustrophobia as you are only permitted to see a small fraction of the action.
Parents, beware! After seeing this movie, you may not look at your kids the same anymore! That’s because single dad David Kim (John Cho), who we see in flashbacks with his precious little girl, Margot and his wife, Pamela (Sara Sohn), has collected all his memories of them on his computer. Video snippets, pictures, and random vines tell us their happy times then the sad days leading up to Pamela’s last days and Margot’s (Michelle La) spiraling depression over it. Her attention to her piano recital has even wavered. David has taken it hard too, getting help from his pot-smoking brother Peter (Joseph Lee) and work. Then it happens.
Margot, supposedly gone with some friends on a camping trip, disappears. Calls to her cellphone go unanswered, friends don’t know where she is, and her piano instructor reveals that she canceled her lessons six months ago! Panicking, David contacts the police, and Det. Rosemary Vick (Deborah Messing) takes the case. But while she is handling stuff on her end, David goes into detective mode on his. Hacking into Margot’s Facebook, Instagram, bank account, and YouCast accounts, he soon learns more and more about his daughter. . . and it doesn’t paint her as the daughter he knows.
Vick and David discover that Margot had a fake ID, left town with cash, and made many despondent YouCast videos where she chatted with someone called “fish_n_chips”. But who is this person? Why did they trace Margot’s car only partly out of town? And is Peter being so hush-hush about her disappearance for a reason? The answers come quickly and solve a bigger picture (one that I kinda figured out half-way through the movie), but nonetheless packs a nice punch.
Written by first-time theatrical director/writer Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian (My Big Fat Armenian Family), Chaganty really knows how to piece together a story that strikes at the core of any parent that thinks this exact nightmare scenario in their head. It’s riveting, scary, brutal, honest, and resonates with a frightening “what if” premise. Even though it’s shot with nothing but videos, screens, etc, it doesn’t lose any of its intensity. The writing is crisp and real, so much so, sometimes you’d swear this isn’t a movie after all, but eavesdropping on actual videos.
However, you’ve got to give it to the cast for selling it, and sell it they do! Cho does a remarkable job as the father who is at his breaking point in grief, pain, and fear, all of which Cho emotes all too well on camera. Not to be outdone is Messing who, leaving the make-up and hair-care of her Will & Grace persona behind, proves this lady can ACT! In fact, the whole cast are just wonderful and don’t dissolve into the silliness of those other “computer screen” movies like Unfriended, The Den, and ChatRoom. Highly recommended.