TL;DR – A film that is both revolutionary filmmaking, but also deeply centred on the question of what would you do if you lost everything
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Films can be revolutionary for a number of reasons, maybe they have a new actor that blows the world away, maybe they are looking at a subject that no one dared venture before, or maybe they revolutionise filmmaking in some way. With Searching, we have the later because this is a film that is shot entirely from the perspective of a computer screen. We see the YouTube video, the webcam, the documents as if we were living in the screen and peering out in the world. It is both disorientating but also oddly comfortable as it has all the tactile notions of the world we live in. With that in mind, today we are going to see if this is a film that is just a gimmick, or if it is using this new technique to tell a story.
So to set the scene, Searching follows the life of David (John Cho), Pamela (Sara Sohn), and their daughter Margot (Michelle La). You see the highs and lows of their life, from their daughter’s first day in school, to a sequence that gave Up a run for its money in the soccer punch to the feels in the first 10 minutes of a film. As time goes on, David and Margot start building distance between each other that you are not entirely sure if it is normal teenage relationships or something more. One night, while David was asleep, Margot tried to phone him twice but he didn’t hear, and in the morning she was gone, and no one knows what happened to her. This starts David on the path of finding what happened to his daughter, and it reveals that maybe he does not know her as well as he thought.
When you are going to have a conceit like everything framed through a monitor you have to do two things, one get all the small details right, and two more than even you need to have compelling performances two pull the audience through the film, and Searching has both. The problem of using a computer as the main access point is that everyone has one, so if you get the details wrong you immediately enter that realm of the losing the suspension of disbelief. However, here we see the computer used not only as a framing device for the story, but also a way of showing time progressing, and the team did a great job of making each screen feel right. When that windows computer turned on I was immediately taken back to my youth, and they got even the things like YouTube’s layout right.
When it comes to the acting pulling everyone through, I have to give full props to John Cho being both the emotional epicentre of the film and also having to drive the core narrative. That is a difficult job if you just had one of those jobs, but John pulls both off with amazing skill. I have seen him be a supporting roles with great success like in film Star Trek Beyond (see review) but here he is amazing as the dramatic lead, and I hope we see more leading roles in his future. As well as this, we have Debra Messing who plays Detective Rosemary Vick the lead investigator in the missing person’s case. She has to be the calm in the storm, and also the guiding force for David in the difficult job of piecing together Margot’s life. All of this from the opening moments to the closing dilemma create a film that captures you, and the performances are a core part of that.
Now to explore the framework of the film we will hit a couple of [SPOILERS] in this next paragraph. With the main conceit of the film, I didn’t find it to be a gimmick but more of a different way to tell a story. However, because the film commits to this completely for the whole runtime, it does have to find some pretty ridiculous setups to make it all fit. For example, I don’t think that a news helicopter would every live stream the removal of a car from a lake when there is a strong chance there would be a decomposing body in the front seat. Or at least I hope to god they wouldn’t, and there are a couple of moments like this in the back end of the film. They also have to be a bit less subtitle with plot points which does feel a bit forced, but by the end, a lot of the inconsistencies make sense once you understand the full picture.
In the end, do we recommend Searching? Yes, yes we do. It has a strong cast, and interesting story, it will hit you in the feels at times, and it is doing something quite different with the way it is produced, which at the very least is novel. However, before all of that, it is a story of a father and his daughter and the basic drive that all parents would have here, to do whatever is necessary to find their lost child. It is in this universal story that we see the film’s heart, and it is the thing that drives you to follow the film’s every emotional beat.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Searching
Directed by – Aneesh Chaganty
Written by – Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian
Music by – Torin Borrowdale
Cinematography by – Juan Sebastian Baron
Edited by – Nick Johnson & Will Merrick
Starring – John Cho, Michelle La, Debra Messing, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Kya Dawn Lau, Megan Liu, Alex Jayne & Steven Michael Eich
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13