REVIEW

Searching

OR (Times and Books with Faces)




WORDICT

Outstanding!






ELITE METER
0
%








BYTE THE BULLET
An electrically-charged alternative storytelling experience. Recommended.

PLOT

When Margot goes missing, and there isn’t much the detectives can find on her, her father David Kim takes it upon himself to look for clues around her laptop. But he’s not really ready for what he’s about to find.


Former NatGeo photographer Charles O’Rear’s Bliss, known commonly as the default wallpaper of Microsoft Windows XP—the tech company’s most popular Windows OS iteration—is the first thing viewers see in Aneesh Chaganty’s feature-length directorial debut, Searching. Now, it might not seem like much, but if you think about it, you’ll realize it was the right choice to kickstart the film’s first act. Much like the rise of the PC and internet in the 90s, the image is bound to take a lot of us down memory lane. There’s a certain allure to seeing the movie setting up its characters using nothing but saved recordings and old YouTube videos—with maybe some bittersweetness thrown into the mix, using nothing but the good old calendar app and an empty “What’s on your mind?” text-box in Facebook.

[…] it helps that Searching is built on a solid foundation already.

[…] it helps that Searching is built on a solid foundation already.

As the narrative progresses, however, viewers will find out that this is just the beginning. Going against the Heightened Realism 101 rulebook in films of this kind, Chaganty chooses to underline his storytelling with a terrific score and appropriate rhythm-heavy editing. Composer Torin Borrowdale paints the many plot decisions with appropriately vivid and diverse brushstrokes of warmth, reflectiveness, tension, and anger, and co-editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick seem only happy to collaborate; their edit decisions feel almost always in tandem with the music—and, as a result, the pulse—of Searching. This isn’t entirely surprising; producer Timur Bekmambetov (who, since directing Ben Hur, seems to have taken a vacation from conventional live-action filmmaking) has been quite interested in experimenting with diverse storytelling devices.

Between a first-person-shooter action comedy (Hardcore Henry) and a story told mostly through computer screens (Leo Gabriadze’s Unfriended, 2015), Bekmambetov seems to have taken an acute interest in the latter. Gabriadze’s horror-thriller might have been an excellent playground to experiment, because, with Chaganty’s film, the style attains a certain level of perfection. Take Searching‘s virtual camerawork,  as an example. There’s an almost constant state of synthetic handheld motion, with faux crash-zooms only serving to complement the accelerated sense of tension it provides. This might be a relatively novel way to make a movie, but the makers definitely take from a lot of conventional film technique to form a foundation. All of these nuts-and-bolts don’t matter though; they only serve to strengthen the film’s overall image system—and it helps that it’s built on a solid foundation already.

Image

YO TF ARE YOU LOOKIN' AT MATE?

John Cho stars in Aneesh Chaganty's Searching, a Sony Pictures and Bazelevs Company release.

John Cho (Columbus, 2017) effortlessly essays the role of the distressed parent David Kim in search of his daughter Margot (Michelle La). Everything that he does within the film aligns well with real-world conversations online. If there are people on the receiving end who disconnect the call, it only makes sense for the caller to trail off mid-sentence confused. This—and many other nuanced aspects of loss, fear, betrayal, and grief—translate really well onscreen. There are moments when long stretches of dialogue are through nothing but the act of sending messages. David’s investigation for possible clues leads him to many virtual social circles; her contact list and Facebook profile are just among two of quite a few places you see him looking through. Every click made in the process; every stroke of a key on the keyboard is given due attention. The rattling tension it creates, as a result, makes the film a surprising nailbiter as a whole.

[…] you’re either the detective, parenting expert, or heartbroken empathizer online, but you couldn’t care less about a missing person when the spotlight’s not on you.

[…] you’re either the detective, parenting expert, or heartbroken empathizer online, but you couldn’t care less about a missing person when the spotlight’s not on you.

Joining him is Debra Messing (NBC’s Will and Grace), who portrays the detective handling David’s case with an astonishing conviction. Her commitment to the role is fascinating alright, but what really does the trick here is that you’re convinced she’s a PD without much of an expository effort. Much of how she portrays her character makes it very easy for viewers to empathize with her, the world she lives in, and the difficulties she faces. Unfortunately, despite Cho and Messing’s knockout performances, and the film’s almost-constant sense of tension, the third act does tend to feel a bit abrupt. While that doesn’t derail the overall film experience, it does feel slightly disappointing to see an otherwise smooth ride end up with a few bumps on its way to the finish line. But with storytelling so strong and committed, these things tend not to affect you—you’re already way too interested in the interpersonal relationships of its characters and rooting for David to get his closure.

It’s why, through most of its runtime, Searching works with almost clockwork precision. Chaganty creates a film that not only makes you feel for people you know mostly from live streams, messages and FaceTime conversations. It’s a mystery thriller alright, but what makes the film even better is just how much it’s a commentary on the various personas people keep; you’re either the detective, parenting expert, or heartbroken empathizer online, but you couldn’t care less about a missing person when the spotlight’s not on you. An ever so slightly bumpy final act aside, Chaganty succeeds with Searching in ways you’d expect from a lot of conventional live-action thrillers—and, as a consequence, effectively brings in an innovative filmmaking style for the people of today. If you thought Unfriended or Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows may not have cut it for you, there’s a high chance this film might persuade you to change your mind.


VERDICT

For a film told mostly through the perspective of smartphone and computer screens, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching succeeds not just in making a gripping thriller, but merging together revered film technique and alternative storytelling devices to create a film that’s serious about the exploration of new-age filmmaking possibilities. Highly recommended.

ABOUT
THE AUTHOR

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook Twitter

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook Twitter

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.

About the Author

Ankit Ojha

Facebook Twitter

Ambivert. Intermittent cynic. Content creator. New media enthusiast. Binge-watcher. Budding filmmaker.