SHOULD I SEE IT?
While it feels like we are at the beginning of a surge in “all on screens” storytelling, Searching is a novel, clever film worth watching.
John Cho simply does not get enough credit for how good an actor he really is. Searching another shining example.
Gripping, edgy, and full of suspense, Searching is not the horror movie the trailers make it out to be - and it is all the better for it.
There’s a third act reveal and…I dunno guys.
There could be a generation of folks interested in this movie who may simply not “get it.” And to them, I simply say “Sorry.”
I honestly cannot come up with one, except this is a suspense thriller and not a horror film. And maybe that’s creates a “hard pass” for you? Movie’s good. Go support it.
Remember the “found footage” phenomenon of horror and suspense movies? As more and more of those films have faded away and the creativity within the genre has dissipated, perhaps we have found the next incarnation of the concept.
Movies told “on screens.”
The horror franchise Unfriended is perhaps, up to this point, the most commercially viable entry in this new “told on screens” storytelling technique. Still in its infancy as a narrative concept, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching may have already raised the bar exceptionally high.
Not only has Chaganty crafted a compelling, riveting film, he rewrites the rules - playing loose and fast with Searching’s structure, incorporating webcam conversations, Facetime calls, YouTube videos, social media lifecasting, and news reports to take us through a harrowing and intense missing person story.
Opening with a jarring, and profoundly emotional beginning, Searching then settles into the story of single father David (John Cho, terrific), whose daughter Margot (Michelle La) is a busy and socially active 16-year-old sophomore, stumbling her way through high school. She forgets to take out the trash, forgets to text back sometimes, but has earned her father’s trust to be independent and responsible.
After a late-night study session at a friend’s house for her AP Biology class, David misses a phone call and a couple Facetime messages from Margot, The next day he finds his texts going unanswered. Late into the afternoon, she is not answering phone calls and David grows concerned.
Once he checks in with his brother Peter (Joseph Lee), he finds an old friend of Margot’s, whose mother mentions a weekend-long camping trip that Margot was invited to. David assumes Margot went on the trip, but when he talks to the friend the following morning, she wasn’t there.
After filing a missing persons report, David meets Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and an investigation is opened. At this point, Searching becomes more of a procedural, from both the domestic side and police side. At Vick’s direction, David begins working through Margot’s Facebook, her laptop, her e-mail, and a live streaming platform she used, looking for any possible clues that could help him find his daughter’s whereabouts.
The conceit of Searching is that, by being told completely on screens, it showcases a reflection of our times. For the most part, this works exceedingly well, mirroring how most of us maneuver through our day. Setting aside the mystery at the heart of Chaganty’s film for a moment, Searching illuminates so clearly how dependent we have become on the countless devices that track us, record us, and leave a digital trail for others to find.
Which begs the question: How can someone simply go missing? Well, in the case of Margot, this occurs through being human. David’s missed phone calls seemingly bring forth a ghostly trail of the past, in real time, right before his eyes. David works a lot, thus leaving Margot on her own for a considerable stretch of time. They have a trust built up and check in with each other often, but as David uncovers more and more truths behind Margot’s life, he sees a Margot he does not know, and begins realizing he simply never knew his daughter like he thought he did.
Where this all leads will not be spoiled here. Chaganty, directing his feature-film debut with a script he co-wrote with collaborator Sev Ohanian, leaves a fair amount of twists and turns in its back pocket that keep us “searching” right along with David.
The beauty of this approach – presenting us with screens we see every day, amid an emotional, believable premise – is that it forces us to be in the hunt with the main characters. All of this feels very recognizable and real. And increasingly, we interact this way with seldom any fear that a text sent throughout the day will go unanswered. Or that an e-mail will sit silent in the “sent” box. Understandably, we expect and anticipate a response.
In a culture that increasingly seeks instant gratification, it now becomes a burden on us emptionally and psychologically when we are not acknowledged almost immediately. Now add in a child or loved one not responding and anxieties and fears can only escalate as minutes turn into hours and hours perhaps become days.
Searching is terrific cinema. Exhilarating, suspenseful, intense, and surprising in how it is far different than the horror movie the trailer tries to sell us. Instead, the “horror” becomes a searing, deeply personal and emotional family story of love lost and feared to be lost once again.
Cho is terrific, Chaganty becomes a director to immediately keep an eye on, and even if a final reveal may polarize some audience members, Searching is a film that will keep us thinking and considering how we live our lives, and participate in the lives of those we love, long after the film’s credits power down.
CAST & CREW
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee, Sara Sohn, Steven Michael Eich.
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Release Date: August 24, 2018
Screen Gems/Sony Pictures