Runtime: 1 hour 42 minutes
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, and Sara Sohn
Coming out of Searching, I knew for sure that definitely I enjoyed the movie, but at the same time felt somewhat disappointed with the final picture. I recalled a similar feeling I had with A Quiet Place earlier this year, and my sole grievance with that film. The unfortunate truth of modern storytelling is that virtually every story that is being told or will ever be told has been told before in some way, shape, or form. Yet despite this creative limitation, new storytellers (filmmakers) continue to tell the same familiar stories over and over again, with their own creative spin manifesting in the cosmetic, and sometime thematic, attributes around the conventional narrative: different and distinct directing styles, experimental acting methods, musical scores, et cetera. A Quiet Place is a very conventional survival narrative with few risks deemed “original” because of its novel use of sound design as a gimmick, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Searching is another such film that tells a familiar genre story in an original way via literal computer screens. And just like A Quiet Place, it is very good at telling that story.
Directed by former Google Creative Lab employee Aneesh Chaganty, Searching follows a grieving Asian-American family consisting of David Kim (John Cho) and his 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle Le) after the untimely passing of the family’s cancer striken mother (Sara Sohn). One day, Margot suddenly disappears without a trace, but when a panicked David starts to contemplate the worst, he begins to backtrack his daughter’s online activities leading up to her disappearance. David is quickly tasked by Detective Vick to assist in the police investigation to find his daughter by reaching out to the people who interact with Margot, where he soon finds out that his daughter was indeed not who he thought she was.
As stated earlier, Searching is not like your typical mystery thriller. If you’ve seen the Unfriended horror films, or are aware of their existence, then you’ll recognize the total computer screen presentation. I happen to really enjoy the first Unfriended (2014) – more than most probably – and somewhat liked it’s unexpected sequel which released not too long ago, Unfriended: Dark Web (2018), particularly finding the neo-found-footage style quite effective in creating a realistically creepy atmosphere. Likewise with the horror franchise, Searching‘s peculiar cinematography adds an unsettling realism to the underlying narrative, which Chaganty executes expertly. The film does an excellent job of anticipating the viewers intuition with the investigative sequences. It’s fun to follow David as he parses through galleries of photos and documents and latch on to the same quick detail that David too spots. Unfortunately, once the culprit is revealed, the intrigue that the film had going for it mellows out to its expected conclusion; but that’s not to say everything leading up to it wasn’t worth the time spent. I doubt most people will hate the ending or anything like that, but anyone expecting a genuinely surprisingly, provocative conclusion will be sadly (or happily) disappointed.
Searching isn’t entirely the bold cyber-thriller that its trailers hinted at it being, but what it lacks in narrative risks is more than made up for with a masterfully confident, experimental form, and an especially compelling performance from John Cho, of Harold and Kumar and Star Trek fame. If you’re not sure what to catch in theaters this weekend (assuming Mandy isn’t playing near you), definitely consider giving this one a go.