Looking Back at 2010s Films: Searching (2018)

10 Oct

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By Tanner Smith

Continuing my series of Looking Back at 2010s Films, you remember “Unfriended?” “The Den?” Other minimalist “cyber-thrillers” that were told entirely from the point-of-view of a computer screen? Well, those films were only setting us up for what would become the best of this particular “subgenre.”

That film is “Searching,” a mystery-drama about a father desperately trying to find her missing daughter. He does so by using potential clues left from her computer–her social media, her calendar events, just about anything and everything that could possibly lead to answers to numerous questions about her. And yes, the entire film is told through media–computer screens, phone screens, camera monitors, news feed, you name it.

It’s just a gimmick used as a device to tell the story, but with that said, I appreciate the lengths that director Aneesh Chaganty went to to further the story with as minimal techniques as possible and still make it effective. And with a mystery such as this, using as many online resources as possible, to do it well using this gimmick is impressive indeed.

John Cho stars as David, the widowed father who tries everything he can think of to obtain more answers about his teenage daughter Margot’s disappearance. With this film and 2017’s drama “Columbus” (which I’ll get to later), Cho has come quite a long way since his comedic roles as the “MILF” guy in the “American Pie” movies and the uptight stoner who went to White Castle and Guantanamo Bay with his buddy Kumar. He’s proven to be a more than capable dramatic actor, and he’s absolutely terrific here. There’s not a moment in Searching where I don’t feel for him–I want to help this poor guy because he’s going through a living hell. Every time he comes to another dead end after thinking he’s finally going to get THE answer he’s been searching for (the question being, “where the f is my daughter??”), it’s heartbreaking.

Cho was nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award for this performance–yet another reason for me to appreciate the Indie Spirits more than the Oscars.

“Searching” also has a great amount of heart to it, established with an emotional prologue that shows the family dynamic of David, Margot, and Pam, who would die of cancer. From these first few minutes, we see how this tragic death affected the lives of both David and Margot. Margot feels very alone and closes herself off from everyone, including her father. When she disappears, David realizes he doesn’t know his own daughter anymore and has to learn all he can about her through her social media in order to gain some insight about what might have happened to her, where she could be, etc. He finds he’s closed himself off from her as well.

This mystery-thriller is as good at going for the emotions as it is generating suspense, and I applaud it for that. The mystery itself is pretty intriguing and just as much so the second time.

Also, here’s a wonderfully effective, biting piece of commentary that I appreciate. David questions Margot’s classmates who admit they weren’t really Margot’s “friends” because she was too shy and closed-off. Later, when an Amber Alert is set up and Margot becomes a trending topic, THOSE SAME PEOPLE are making tearful videos about how much they “loved” Margot and that she was their “best friend.” It’s true that so many of us don’t really hop on board a certain issue until that issue becomes popular, and I thank the film for showing that in this way. (There are even a bunch of attention-hungry jerks who hop on board to blame David for it all.)

“Searching” is an engaging, taut thriller that wouldn’t work in a more conventional filmmaking fashion because it’d be difficult to get across more of Margot’s inner life via traditional flashbacks. This is the computer-POV gimmick done right, and I wonder how it could be topped.

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