Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Starring – John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee
The Plot – After David Kim’s (Cho) 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective (Messing) is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some drug and sexual references, and for adult language
– Cho’s performance is one of calculated measurements. Considering he is adapting to the newest of developments that happen before him, John not only has little time to soak in what has already happened, but does so in a way that grabs ahold of the anxiety that his character is constantly riddled with. This is a father’s worst nightmare come true, and Cho’s embrace of the shame as a result of the twisted reality is one that is every bit as chilling as it is humanistic.
– The gimmick itself. As to where a film like ‘Unfriended’ completely obliterated the logic and capabilities of an entire movie being filmed online, ‘Searching’ dazzles us with what could and should always be. Not only does this film stay faithful to said gimmick, even so much as branching out to other forms of technology far more expansive than that of a desktop, but it knows how to use each program capably enough to where we’re not sitting there screaming at the character. Chaganty as a screenwriter has clearly done his homework here, and I commend him greatly for crafting a protagonist who is every bit as intelligent as the people embracing his film.
– An in-depth opening montage of online videos, pictures, and e-mails that articulately paints the family’s devastating past to this point. There’s something almost tragic about the passage of time through memories that hits us with this sequence long before the vanishing of the film ever takes place, setting the empathetic precedent for what’s to inevitably come. Because a screenplay can take its time and captivate with something as easy as memory highlights, we as an audience feel that much more engaged in this father and daughter, who clearly only have each other in this world.
– What’s appreciated probably more than anything here is we’re not just staring at one continuous screen being played out in real time. The sharp editing is used more as a tool to relay the furthering of time, moving us bluntly along to the next interesting development, instead of the movie lagging for the sake of authenticity. These cuts magnify the consistency in tension while focusing on the doubling down of facial reactions and online text that play so importantly in the detective work that this terrified parent is uncovering.
– Attention to detail. Extra points for the production for going out of its way to duplicate the designs of famous websites like Ebay and Youtube to play opposite of the particular timeline of events playing out before us. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane, in all of its 360 pixel quality, and just one more example of this film accentuating the details of the gimmick that would otherwise be an obvious negative.
– Responsible commentary on modern parenting. For my money, the film serves as a constant reminder for parents everywhere to continue nagging and searching your kid for answers, no matter how much it bothers them. Most youths live a double life online, and ‘Searching’ is one in a million examples of someone always watching. As for technological advances of the modern age itself, the movie presents an equally riveting take for the advantages and disadvantages of its gifts, depending on what we are using them for.
– Unintentional humor that is true to its word. While there was very little I found about ‘Searching’ humorous in material, I can say that Chaganty’s strongest push in material is his depiction of insensitivity from social media that flock like seagulls whenever tragedy breaks. Through close-ups of comments from the online community, we are treated to the very ideal of shock commenting that trolls thrive on, and despite it feeling like it forces us to laugh or roll our eyes, it hits the mark of honesty for where the world’s heart is at in 2018. Don’t believe me? Go look up any tragedy online right now that has comments allowed at the bottom.
– Obnoxious sound mixing. Once again we have an example of mediocre camera equipment with the single greatest Dolby surround sound that money can buy. Even when this film had me falling for its charms and immersing myself in the unfolding drama of its mystery, I was dragged out of it each time with distracting sound quality that shouldn’t be nearly as loud or as clear as it is. There is a desire to pander to audiences, but if it’s authenticity that is the name of the game, then why not replicate the quality bit for bit?
– Problems with the ending twists. Besides the problem of ‘Searching’ redundantly back-peddling constantly on its subplots, it also paints itself into an inevitable corner of dissatisfaction with its sloppy conclusion. On the former, these subplots only persist because of constant Mcguffin misunderstandings that all of which hold no bearing or physical weight on the film’s disappointing climax. On the latter, it does the painful deed that other mystery movies do, where it’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If the kidnapper is someone we’ve seen in the film, it doesn’t introduce enough characters to make it that great of a mystery. If it’s someone we haven’t yet seen, it doesn’t mean much to the shock factor of it all. So how could this film possibly satisfy audiences who are constantly paying attention? Especially when the ending itself makes absolutely no sense anyway.
– I did have some lingering feelings about the way every single detail of this case is found online on Margot’s personal pages, as well as the access that her Father gained on getting through passwords. For one, her Apple laptop doesn’t have a password screen? This seems unlikely even for one woman’s lone laptop. Then there’s no password on the desktop that the family share together. This seems even more unlikely considering three different people use this thing, and privacy is a virtue.
– There is an homage to the ‘Unfriended’ franchise early on in the film, where a search bar on Facebook has the name Laura Barn across it. Laura Barnes was of course the antagonist in the original movie.