If you look back at films over the last few years, calling any of them revolutionary might be a stretch. A Quiet Place (2018) comes to mind when thinking of a unique concept, but even that has elements that audiences have all seen before. With over a hundred years of cinema, finding something outside of the box and original is a challenge. However, in 2018, debuted director Aneesh Chaganty brought us Searching, a game changer for the industry.
Searching is a thriller which tells the story of David Kim (John Cho) and his daughter Margot Kim (Michelle La). After Margot goes missing, David seeks the help of Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), and also every human beings best friend, technology. With Detective Vick and Margot’s laptop, David is hell-bent on finding his daughter.
If one has overloaded themselves with viewings of Liam Neeson’s Taken or Taken rip-offs, a narrative that revolves around a missing daughter might not sound appealing. But do not judge a book by its cover, this thriller digs deep, and is also a captivating visual treat for viewers.
By now audiences believe they know how a film should look. We expect standard camera shots like an over the shoulder shot and cuts back and forth of characters having a conversation. Director Aneesh Chaganty, however, avoids this stereotypical path. He also throws the entire rule book out the window. He masterfully tells his story through iPhones, computer screens, and every other piece of technology that comes to mind.
Searching opens with a beautiful sequence of David’s family using a computer, as we see everything from the computer’s point of view. Information that is key to the story is only shared visually through various family members’ use of this particular computer. Emails, pop-ups of important reminders appear, and we are also intelligently informed of time passing by Margot becoming a teenager, and the computer software updating. This opening allows us to understand our character’s journey thus far, while also allowing us to adjust to seeing them through a small computer screen. Soon after, Margot goes missing, and David is joined by Detective Rosemary as the chase to find his daughter begins.
What makes the film so powerful, and emotional, is how our characters use and communicate through different forms of technology. Prior to Margot’s disappearance, there is a scene where David is texting her. He types a message, which he then deletes before sending to her. It’s such a relatable scene because every audience member can relate to that moment of contemplation. Just by watching the I-Beam pointer disappear and reappear; we understand the emotion that they are trying to convey. It’s a different world now, perhaps using social media and texting is more relatable than losing a loved one.
There are moments where this feels like an Alfred Hitchcock story with social media, and that’s because Aneesh has taken a Hitchcock approach to suspense. Hitchcock once said: “The element of suspense is giving an audience information.” In this film, there are moments where audiences witness David gathering information from Margot’s computer, and when he goes to confront certain characters, the tension is almost unbearable as we know (or think we know) what is to come. Also, unlike other thrillers where standard camera shots are employed, a restricted view of our characters makes it incredibly difficult to piece different clues together. So you essentially enter your worst nightmare, the unknown.
Fortunately for viewers, Searching is not just style over substance; it is supported by a terrific script that takes plot twists to a whole new level. When we think it’s over, there’s another twist, each more shocking than the last. Every actor also puts their best foot forward by delivering subtle performances that were necessary for us to relate to their behaviour on a phone or webcam.
A minor complaint one may have about this film is why an average family feels the need to upload so many personal videos on YouTube. However, as I said earlier, it is a different world now.
No piece of cinema will have a greater impact on how filmmakers make, and how we as an audience watch these features going forward more than Searching. Using technology that we use in our everyday lives to tell a story and bring different emotions to life is a natural progression in the filmmaking process. Searching is quite simply a landmark moment in cinematic history, one that we will look back and marvel at years from now.
Dir: Aneesh Chaganty
Scr: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Prd: Timur Bekmambetov, Sev Ohanian, Natalie Qasabian, Adam Sidman
DOP: Juan Sebastian Baron
Runtime: 98 mins
Searching is available on DVD from January 7th.