Here’s what we know – the internet, while a vast and important instrument of endless possibility, can also be very scary. Searching is not the first movie to revolve around this concept. It wasn’t even the first movie to do so this year, as Eighth Grade came out just a few months earlier. But anchored by a strong performance by John Cho, a savvy understanding of how our technology works and affects society, and a relatively high concept that manages to stay fresh for its hour and 42-minute runtime, Searching manages to tread familiar waters with a sharp sense of urgency, depth, and innovation.
A parent’s worst nightmare: Two years after the death of his wife Pam, David Kim (Cho) still finds himself struggling to process his grief. So much so, that he can’t even bring himself to mention Pam around their now-teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La). Despite the fact that both he and Margot are constantly communicating through text messaging and FaceTime video chats, David notices that a rift has started to form between them – and it doesn’t seem to be closing any time soon. When Margot doesn’t return home from a late night study session one night, David doesn’t panic right away. He thinks he knows his daughter well enough to stay one step ahead of her whereabouts. David quickly finds out that’s not the case. With the help of a sympathetic detective (Debra Messing), David works to unravel the mystery of Margot’s disappearance as it transforms into a full-blown police investigation and media frenzy to find her.
FaceTime: The entirety of Searching is presented through the perspective of screens – like David’s desktop computer, Margot’s cellphone and laptop, television screens, surveillance displays, and many more. Unusual visual presentations like this can easily get old quick (i.e. Hardcore Henry), but cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron manages to recycle the trick multiple times from beginning to end without making it seem overdone. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie allows Cho, Messing, and the rest of its talented cast of actors work their magic by mostly using their facial expressions. David looks more and more haggard as the search for Margot continues, which is expected of someone who is spending every waking hour digging through social media feeds and video chatting law enforcement. Cho’s tired eyes, furrowed brow, and jaw that hangs when surprised and clenches when angry give his performance a wide range of expression without the audience having to see the language of his entire body. When an actor is given such little space to operate, the movie can either be made or broken based on how they choose to tackle the challenge. Not only is everyone who appears on the screen(s) game for the work, but they do the job so well, that it’s easy to forget that we’re watching people act out a screenplay. We’re richer because of their efforts.
Tech brain: Speaking of the screenplay, it’s easy to see why Searching’s portrayal of smartphone culture stands out when compared to others. First-time writer and director Aneesh Chaganty used to work at Google before leaving to pursue a career in filmmaking. What would Searching have been like if anyone else had taken hold of the directorial reins instead of Chaganty? His words and story still would have been in place, but the touch absolutely would not have been the same. It has a gimmick that is designed to draw us in, but Chaganty doesn’t ever treat it like a gimmick. He treats it all like a slice of life, which honestly, shouldn’t be difficult for anyone to wrap their head around. We live in a society connected by endless strands of bandwidth and small computers in our pockets. By looking through our screens, we’re given opportunities to do things that were once considered unimaginable and other chances to come face-to-face with some of our biggest fears – whether knowingly or not. It’s only right that we have a movie that represents our culture for what it is. Searching is that movie.
Searching takes a timely topic and spins it into an engrossing mystery that may prompt multiple viewings.
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Searching is featured on Borrowing Tape’s Best Films of 2018 list.