Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La.
In this digital age, we’ve seen an emergence of films which puts social media and technology at the centre of their narratives. As an example, Unfriended and Friend Request utilise social as a backdrop for horror due to how easy it is to be anonymous online and post truly awful things about people, with dire consequences. With so many of the population frequently using social platforms, it’s unsurprising that filmmakers are choosing to use this as a way of resonating with the modern audience and offering a fresh take on filmmaking.
Searching, on the other hand, uses social media and modern communication to solve the disappearance of a teenage girl. The film focuses primarily on the girl’s father as he searches her laptop and phone for clues into where she could have gone. I can understand people’s apprehension after hearing this synopsis as it took risks and could’ve been terrible from start to finish. Thankfully for me, I loved every minute of it and it’s a strong contender for one of my top films of the year. It’s unique, it’s ambitious and it’s a fantastic piece of storytelling from start to finish. For those who love thrillers and moments that get you on the edge of your seat, this film is absolutely for you. I haven’t seen a thriller this compelling in such a long time.
The entire film is told through FaceTime conversations, webpages, text messages and other forms of online communication. Throughout the course of the film we never see anyone filmed outside of a computer screen, which really helped to set the scene for me. As an audience member I felt like I was physically looking through someone else’s computer, thus helping contribute to the search for missing teenager, Margot Kim (Michelle La). I loved the attention to detail in this film as you’re constantly searching for clues and looking at email subjects, desktop icons, etc to see if you can crack the case. So much effort went into putting all this together and creating the digital footprints of fictional characters, to the point where they feel so real.
In particular, the opening montage of the film is incredibly poignant and the way they told a story purely through messages, videos, etc is stunning. I was impressed with how well they managed to pull it off. I thought the pacing was excellent and the way it teases the audience by not showing us full messages or making us wait for an answer makes us feel even closer to the investigation. I wished I really had access to all the information so I could click on things myself. I also loved the use of hashtags and comments during the event as it feels like exactly how people would react to widespread news, both positively and negatively. Wherever there’s a serious incident, there’s always a few trolls lurking online to cause drama.
John Cho is excellent in his portrayal of recently widowed father David Kim. He experiences a whirlwind of emotion that is clear through both his video conversations and text messages. The relationship between David and Margot is strained and the script illustrates this perfectly, feeding the audience snippets of information until we’re able to put together the full picture of who they are and how they interact with each other. A few of the scenes made me well up as they were so emotionally charged and it’s hard not to feel the despair that he’s feeling. Equal praise must be given to the supporting actors; Debra Messing’s detective character is three dimensional, compelling and utterly invested in the case. Michelle La’s performance of Margot gives us an insight into the life of a teenage girl, where things aren’t always as they seem. The quality of acting throughout is superb and gripping.
Searching is unlike any modern thriller I’ve seen, and actually knows how to do social media and the online world right, without being gimmicky. It’s an unpredictable film that will grip you from the moment you sit down to watch until the final credits roll. Aneesh Chaganty knows how to write a thoroughly engaging and entertaining script, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.