REVIEW: Searching

Remember when Sean Parker said in The Social Network that one day we’re going to “live on the internet”. Well does watching a feature length thriller on the internet count? Because I’d say we’re right about there now, Sean.

The sudden disappearance of his daughter leads distressed father, David Kim, on a hunt to unearth the truth of what truly happened with the aid of a celebrated police detective dedicated to the case.

Ever heard of the term Screen Life? I’m going to assume everyone reading this answered that question with a resounding no. Ok, so, follow up question: would you like to know what Screen Life is? Oh, you do? Well, let me answer that for you!

Screen Life is basically a genre of filmmaking (or more accurately a technique of filmmaking) where the entirety of the movie is told from the vantage point of a computer or phone screen. Similar to how The Blair Witch Project revolutionised cinema with the now notorious found footage technique, director and producer, Timur Bekmambetov, seemingly founded Screen Life with the 2015 film Unfriended. Now the producer has thrown his money into a new Screen Life outing, that being Searching, for which – my gosh – is the best thing to ever happen to the so-called genre… even though the genre only consists of like three films currently.

Searching is the thriller you never thought you wanted or needed, but has ended up being the pinnacle of all thrilling experiences you have had this year (unless someone in your life actually did go missing – I mean, that would understandably be more thrilling [but also, not thrilling in a good way – gosh, I need to shut up]). An overpowering rush of white-knuckled intensity clashes with emotional rawness as filmmaker, Aneesh Chaganty, finally makes good of this flimsy film technique, allowing Screen Life to feel innovative and unique.

To be honest, I was worried going into Searching. I was expecting a flick in the realm of Unfriended quality (which is not horrible, by any means) but instead I was pleasantly surprised with how engaging and intricately detailed this film actually was. Searching took every conceivable opportunity it could in making good use of the Screen Life technique. However, other than all the little details that I will undoubtedly delve into soon, what I most appreciated in Searching was the fact the filmmakers actually used REAL internet platforms! Thank the Lord!

Usually in the movies, filmmakers will create random internet platforms “from scratch” because the studio cannot be arsed paying Google to use their search engine in a scene for their film. So what we usually see are things like ‘Bong’ instead of Bing and ‘Headnovel’ instead of Facebook. (… terrible, right? Thanks, I made them up on the fly). However in Searching we get Google – we get Facebook – we get Instagram – we get YouTube. And this may all seem like nothing to you, but the inclusion of real search engines and social media like these help with establishing reality. If you see things like Facebook and YouTube, you’re more inclined to feel emotionally connected to the story being that familiar internet platforms are apart of our day to day lives. And it makes sense they would have invested in using these platforms, being that the whole freakin’ movie is set online. Straying too far from reality makes for a jarring experience, almost being enough to take you out of the movie entirely and make you feel like you’re peering into another dimension – which would be cool, but that’s not what Searching is about.

What Searching is truly about is the slow decline in a father’s sanity as he hunts the whereabouts of his daughter for which actor, John Cho, captures perfectly. This film could have easily failed in the hands of a lesser actor, yet Cho, who carries about 85% of this film, completely nails a range of emotions, so powerful, Searching probably just would not have worked without him. An essence of Hugh Jackman’s rage and confusion in Prisoners interlinked with the quiet and reserved performance of Ben Affleck in Gone Girl, Cho delivered a somewhat masterstroke of a performance that capped off every element of this film perfectly.

The pure detail of this film is astounding as Searching utilities its frames well, to hide  clues and hints in plain sight. The foreshadowing alone in this film reminded me of a Hitchcockian, Sherlock Holmes-type level of mystery building. Though it’s also around this point of the critique I think it healthy I raise some problems I had with Searching.

The film may adhere to an awesome mystery with a satisfying conclusion, however the final act really paled in comparison to the first hour or so of the movie. Searching started ridiculously strong and built momentum throughout, although the climax just felt as if it was dumbed down slightly to make sure every member of the movie’s audience were on the right page. The movie connects certain dots for audience members despite said dots being 100% visible and easily accessible for audiences to make their own assumptions and connect their own answers. A giant exposition dump was included towards the movie’s finale which may have been needed in some capacity but could have been executed better. My main problem is that Searching was so intelligently attuned for the first hour and a bit, but then felt the need to hold audience’s hands towards the movie’s end. And I didn’t completely appreciate that.

(Bishop 2018)

Furthermore, Searching does go above and beyond despite its minor hiccups. A bleeding social commentary on perspective beat at the heart of this film. The rapidly evolving attitude of a society in a crisis and the unwavering opinions of the public on tragedies all surged as thematic concepts beneath the surface of Searching. The film smartly showed the jarring reactions to a crisis both before and after, observing how people will take advantage of devastating situations to gain attention. For example, early on in Searching, David questions a high schooler on the whereabouts of his daughter only to receive a selfish and careless response. However after the missing person’s case hits national news, the same high schooler is shown in a later Facebook video crying and calling her “best friend’s” disappearance a tragedy purely for Facebook likes and views… yeah, we all know people like that. And yet, the filmmakers never shy away from portraying the ugly side of tragedy in media and on social platforms.

Searching also presents an unrelenting look on the trauma a parent will persist through to ensure the safety of their child. Limits and borders are nonexistent when protecting the one you love and Chaganty’s portrayal of the extraordinary drive and passion of parenting is astounding to behold; especially when seen through the search undertaken by Cho’s character, these particular themes are more than visible.

Beginning similar to Up and ending alike Avengers: Infinity War – nah, jokes, as if I would ruin the (Hawkeye dies) ending to Searching – Chaganty’s directorial debut breathes fresh life into the questionable genre of Screen Life. I am more than willing now to give this new film technique a greater fighting chance in future, but let’s be honest, this genre ain’t going anywhere. I mean, look at found footage… yeesh, that genre aged like a smoker on two packets a day – rough.

Searching is a bloody… CRUSADE!!


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