Scepticism always looms over gimmicky movies, and the computer-screen narration of Searching certainly brought with it its fair share of preconceived doubts. The whole story unfolds through a series of screens. FaceTime chats, YouTube videos, Google searches and Excel spreadsheets guide us through the dramatic events that follow the disappearance of teenage Margot (Michelle La) and her father David’s (John Cho) desperate mission to find out what happened to her.
What might have been expected to be just another version of 2014’s Unfriended, Searching is a highly entertaining, fast-paced drama, which not only manages to be gripping all the way through, it also achieves the rare thriller feat of having a solid emotional core too.
The screen-voyeur gimmick is used creatively and effectively by first-time director Aneesh Chaganty, especially through his use of a concise Up-style opener that guides us through the first decade and a half of Margot’s life,establishing for us her developing personality traits, the death of her mother and the shifting relationship she has with her father. The sweetness of the introduction is then upended to reveal Margot’s disappearance and the father’s shattering realisation that he knew nothing about his daughter’s secret online world.
Searching is primarily a thriller, and an exceptionally effective one at that. The clues and plot twists come thick and fast as David both helps and thwarts the lead detective (Debra Messing) on Margot’s case. While a film of this nature could suffer from the static nature of screen-staring, Chaganty keeps the momentum and energy up through handheld FaceTime chats as David runs through the woods, and via quick cut news footage and scrubbed YouTube clips. The camera is always in motion, giving us the feeling of urgency David experienced throughout his desperate search. It is certainly this crafty visual trickery that elevates what might have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill thriller, and in so doing, it also allows for some deeper probing of our own online lives.
The final act of the film is perhaps a bit rushed and relies on too many coincidences, but the unraveling of the story is told in such a perfectly jigsawed way, that the finale still manages to hit home soundly. Searching has set the bar high for future screen-based films, and has given Cho a platform to showcase his exciting talent as a serious actor. This is a thriller that will keep you invested in its storyline and characters till the very end, and will have you wondering whether you should ever share anything online ever again.
(Photos copyright: Bazelevs Entertainment, Bazelevs Production)