Searching (2018)

28 Nov

searchingmovie-1535579481-6735.jpg

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

There are people who will compare “Searching” to “Unfriended,” because they share the same gimmick of setting a movie entirely within the confines of a mobile device. Well…almost. “Unfriended” (and another similar film, “The Den”) kept the focus coming from one computer screen and mostly in real time. “Searching” tells its story through various forms of media—laptop screens, cellphone screens, public news footage, YouTube videos, hidden-camera surveillance footage, even GPS. If nothing in the story for “Searching” can be recorded in any way, shape or form, then it didn’t happen. “Searching” utilizes just about every modern convenience imaginable to tell its story, and thankfully, it doesn’t feel forced.

Directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty, “Searching” is a tense, suspenseful, very effective mystery-thriller that had me on-edge, kept me guessing, and delighted me in doing both.

John Cho stars in a great, understated performance as David Kim, a widower raising his 16-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La). After the death of Pamela (Sara Sohn), David’s wife and Margot’s mother, the two barely communicate, save for text messaging and FaceTime. Margot disappears one day (and David doesn’t realize she’s missing until well into the next day), and it’s every parent’s worst dream come true—David’s daughter is missing, she’s not returning his calls, he gets more frantic by the passing minute, and now we have a gripping mystery…

As he believes something is very wrong here, David receives the help of police detective Vick (Debra Messing) and also does his own investigative work by looking through Margot’s laptop she left behind before her disappearance. In addition to contacting her online friends to see if they have any answers, David also combs through her Facebook, her Tumblr, and other sites she’s been sharing pieces of her life with. While he’s doing this, he learns the sad truth that the girl he comes to know through the online clutter is not the daughter he thought he knew, as he discovers new things about Margot that he didn’t know before. Add that to the question of what could have possibly happened with Margot, and David’s world is shattered uncomfortably.

The mystery surrounding this girl’s disappearance is very effective in how pieces of this complicated puzzle keep coming into place. But “Searching” takes it a step further by having a deep emotional center. Through a powerfully poignant opening sequence, we see David and Pamela raise their daughter up until Pamela’s tragic death. (This is told to us using various videos—one great little touch is the progression of the technology with the passage of time.) It’s a simple technique, but we immediately understand the toll this woman’s death has taken on her husband and child, and it’s very well-done. According to a making-of special (which appears on the DVD extras), writers Chagantry and Sev Ohanian first came up with the opening scene to make the story more character-driven and were able to develop the rest of the story through the characterization. I don’t doubt it, because the rest of the film works mainly because you feel you know David and are heartbroken when he realizes Margot hasn’t been the same since Pamela’s death, and neither has his relationship with Margot.

It’s all played with a great deal of credibility. The way Chagantry tells this story, with various forms of media at the assistance, it feels real. And the storytelling at hand here is very fresh, very tense, and very rewarding because not all the answers are easy to guess by the end of the film. It’s an intriguing mystery with a great deal of heart. It can generate emotion as well as it can raise suspense.

What also plays a big part in the film’s credibility is the lead performance by John Cho, who is utterly brilliant in the role of a troubled father desperate to find his missing daughter if for no other reason than to somehow reconnect with her. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for him, even when he does something like track down and humiliate one of Margot’s peers who cracks a joke about her “missing” status. It’s easy to understand his mindset throughout the film.

I’m not sure “Searching” would have worked nearly as well if it was shot and edited more like a traditional film instead of the electronic-media approach. I feel like it had to be presented in this format, not merely because it turns the viewers into voyeurs of these characters’ personal lives or simply that it’s a neat, effective way of telling this story, but because it can also show how our modern conveniences at hand can come in handy in desperate times. (Though, I get the feeling it may also teach overprotective parents to control their kids’ mobile devices.) But overall, I admire the unconventional manner than Chagantry chose to tell this deeply effective story. If that didn’t work, I probably wouldn’t love “Searching” as much as I do. I saw it twice in theaters, and I look forward to more viewings at home.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: