Searching Sequel Missing Was Almost About A Serial Killer Leaving Clues Online [Exclusive]

Under Aneesh Chaganty's supervision, the term "doomscrolling" takes on new life. Scrolling through Twitter is bad enough all on its own, but imagine slogging through social media in the hopes of uncovering clues that unlock the mysterious disappearance of your missing loved one. Unfortunately for them, that's the stressful situation that two of Chaganty's protagonists find themselves in.

First came "Searching," the taut 2018 thriller that marked Chaganty's directorial feature debut. Told entirely through the computer screens and smartphones used to investigate, the film tells the gripping story of a father searching for his missing daughter. Not only did it deliver as a solid, blood-pumping, and extremely twisty thriller, but also as an innovative spin on the screen life sub-genre. So naturally, a sequel was next up on the docket, and filmmakers Chaganty and Sev Ohanian landed on a familiar premise that flips the script: This time around, it's a mother who's gone missing and a daughter who does the searching.

So why make a sequel that sounds so similar to the original? /Film's Ben Pearson spoke with the duo behind the sequel film, who revealed that this storyline emerged very early in the development process. Chaganty explained:

"Sev [Ohanian] had the idea to flip the protagonists early on, and then we just basically threw out a thousand other throughlines of the entire film versus that idea. And we ended up coming back to it."

Flipping the protagonist from parent to child might seem like a simple enough switch, but it adds all sorts of new tension and possibilities to the story.

Mysterious disappearance or Reddit-based serial killer?

In "Searching," part of the struggle for John Cho's character was not understanding the intricacies of social media, or where to start when it came to digging into his daughter's personal life. He had to muddle through to figure out the meaning behind her messages and the various websites that could help him along the way. But with a teenager at the helm in the sequel film, she has plenty of advantages when it comes to being web savvy. Her digital sleuthing will likely be miles ahead of his — but as a teenager, her weaknesses may lie elsewhere.

While this first idea ended up being the winner, plenty of other concepts were floated during the early conversations between Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. "There were so many ideas that were completely different," Chaganty told /Film. "They were just thrillers on computer screens. And now if you look at it, this one's obviously very similar to 'Searching' as far as its core tenets go. But we tried it up against a lot of other completely unrelated stories that didn't necessarily even have anyone being kidnapped or taken."

One of the abandoned ideas sheds the "kidnapped" storyline entirely for an entirely different thriller genre staple: a serial killer. Chaganty explained: "It was just simply like, 'Okay, there's a serial killer on the loose and they're leaving clues on Reddit or online.'" But after mulling it over, the team ultimately came right back to where they started — and it's not hard to see why.

If it ain't broke ...

In his review, /Film's Jeremy Mathai wrote that while "Missing" is certainly familiar when compared to its predecessor, it still makes for a thrilling watch: "Just when you thought 'Searching' had wrung everything it possibly could out of this concept, 'Missing' shows just how much potential remains. What viewers are left with is a bold, twisting, and audacious thriller that will leave you breathless ... though maybe a bit underwhelmed by a nagging sense of déjà vu, too."

There's a reason Liam Neeson has made three different "Taken" movies about a guy's daughter getting kidnapped (and it's not just bad parenting). The emotional weight of seeking out a loved one is inherently heavy and understandable for audiences — what wouldn't we do to hunt them down and save them from terrible circumstances? And then there's all the potential of the twisty narrative that comes from delving into someone's personal life. After all, can you ever truly know someone unless you find their Instagram burner account?

Perhaps the biggest potential of them all comes from the idea of someone digging into the darkest depths of the internet. So as the filmmakers considered all the prospects before them, they kept coming back to their first idea. "[We kept saying,] 'Is that better than this idea?'" Aneesh Chaganty said. "And it ultimately came back to this."

That being said, I'll be damned if the prospect of a Reddit-obsessed serial killer isn't extremely intriguing — though it feels like a very bad sign that Chaganty has now revealed this abandoned premise to the public. But I think I speak for us all when I say that we'll agree to collectively forget that he already gave away the twist if decides to make this the plot of a third movie in this screen life franchise.

"Missing" debuts in theaters on January 20, 2023.