Happy New Year everyone!
I wanted to start off the year with a quick review of a film I watched just the other day.
Searching, is the debut thriller film of director Aneesh Chaganty, and stars John Cho. This film sets itself apart by taking place entirely online, via iMessage chat boxes, Facetime, email, social media, Youtube videos, and google searches. In the film, John Cho’s character, David Kim, searches for his daughter, Margot, after she goes missing. Using all the tools that her computer has available, David races to find the truth behind Margot’s disappearance before it is too late.
I saw trailers for Searching and understood the concept of it, but wasn’t particularly interested in the style. Branching off of the “found footage” genre of filmmaking, regularly utilized in the horror genre, a new wave of “computer screen” storytelling has emerged in recent years. One of the first that I personally saw, was the horror film, Unfriended. Although the movie’s approach to storytelling was novel and interesting – showcasing a different means of visual storytelling that rings true to the current generation, I felt that it was generally unmemorable as a story and ultimately ineffective as a movie. As a result, I was skeptical of how a movie like Searching would fare by comparison, ditching the horror genre and moving into psychological thriller territory.
I was happy to find, that my initial judgement was incorrect. Despite a few moments that did not ring true for the medium, and a few twists that seemed a bit obvious, I thoroughly enjoyed Searching.
From the start, the film utilizes computer user profiles, and video to establish backstory and evoke strong emotional attachment to the characters. Slight hesitation of cursor movement, typing bubbles, and messages – begun but never finished, or erased all together, express conflict, tension, and character complexity. Although, I would say that some aspects of this are a bit hammered in, not ringing completely true to how people behave on their computer, it makes for a more interesting visual medium. Despite it’s storytelling approach, the intimate computer setting does end up feeling theatrical, mainly due to the film’s willingness to be a bit theatrical and ramp up the drama, even at the cost of losing it’s computer “authenticity”. This is something I felt that movies like Unfriended faltered on.
At the end of the film, a special commentary by the director and producer of Searching reveals a slew of easter eggs hidden within the film. Their enthusiasm and approach reminded me of interviews with young M. Night Shyamalan, someone whom they seem to admire. The influence shows in their work, and despite my many issues with said director, it seems that Chaganty has efficiently channeled some of his better directorial habits.
Searching succeeds where others do not, because of the strength of it’s characters, it’s willingness to build a fully fleshed out story, even at the risk of it feeling contrived for the “computer screen” format, and it’s execution of key scenes.
I don’t know how prevalent these “computer screen” stories will become in the next few years. However, if they are even to rise to the notoriety and acceptance of the “found footage” style of storytelling, future filmmakers would be wise to use Searching as a good blueprint. It is by no means a perfect movie. I felt that some of the twists and turns were a bit contrived and hammered in, and there were definitely slow points, but it’s a great place to start and certainly, worth a second look.