“Hey, I just saw a movie you should definitely see…It’s about a guy looking for his missing daughter, but the whole thing takes place on a computer screen.”
I would be willing to bet that conversation happened quite a few times over the past month. I mean, this concept of a whole “dark” movie happening online just because it’s the 21st century is already pretty played out. Last time I checked, not many people liked “Unfriended”.
“Searching” stands out because the concept in itself is not bad. Social media is a very interesting concept to work with and there’s always room to innovate in telling a story differently. The genre has just been clichéd into the ground where the internet serves as a gimmick and not as a stylistic choice or a plot device. This film executes a run of the mill story to near perfection.
Director Aneesh Chaganty takes his first crack at directing in this film and you can see a genuine hunger and love for this story through how it is told. “Harold and Kumar” actor Jon Cho shows how genre-less he is as he plays a middle-aged widowed husband David Kim searching for his daughter Margot (Michelle La). Chaganty immediately draws you in with an amazing opening scene highlighting family memories through computer files while giving the story perfect context to get off and running. This scene seriously may be worth the 10$ in itself.
“Searching” goes into each scene with two intents. One being to progress the physical plot of finding Margot. The second is developing David Kim as a progressively more real and likeable character. Any moment where David is seen as erratic only adds more empathy to his character, due to his circumstance, and is where Cho’s average dad character is at its most interesting.
Every character in the movie has a role in the story. The supporting characters that aren’t even worth remembering by name still leave their impact. Whether they are students at Margot’s school or their parents, they depict social media’s response to tragedy in a way that is timely and necessary – and that’s coming from someone who thinks political commentary fails a solid 70% of the time. Debra Messing as Detective Ross is fantastic and ads even more depth to Cho’s character. We never contemplate how it would feel as a parent in a nightmare situation to interact this in-depth with a detective.
Back to Chaganty’s directing. With a movie that exists entirely on a screen, there would have to be some unnecessary repetition. While this film’s only true flaw is in its repetition. It has nothing to do with a directorial choice strangely but rather some scenes in the second act. There a few times where the search covers the same ground with no driving purpose, but that is a nitpick. There is a very clever idea involving news coverage that keeps this film solely on the screen.
“Searching” takes on a conventional plot and tells it so aptly with strong acting, seamless character development, and a strong twist. The social commentary on apps and modern communication worked very well, predominantly because of Cho, who had one of his best performances as an actor. The film has no issue tying together its ending as well. It leaves you sad that it is over, but also fully aware it could not have ended any other way. Most significantly, we hope this raises the bar for other films in its genre.