Searching finds its groove in overpopulated thriller genre
Movie Review by Madhusudhanan Sridaran (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Searching is Indian-American Aneesh Changanty’s directorial debut, and the movie is significant for a couple of reasons. For starters, Searching is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller movie to feature an Asian-American actor (John Cho, of Harold & Kumar fame) in its headline. Secondly, Searching represents an interesting new subgenre and style of filmmaking—one that has been popularized in recent times by indie video game Her Story and the 2014 movie Unfriended and its sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web.
The dark recesses of technology and its horrors are not completely new to cinema as a medium, but Searching represents a true milestone—in the same way that The Blair Witch Project revolutionized the “found footage” genre. Searching is completely presented from the point of view of technological devices, specifically smartphones, CCTV cameras, and computer screens. One would be forgiven for thinking that this stylistic convention restricts the art of storytelling. To the contrary, it actively amplifies the suspense by keeping the audience thinking every step of the way, in tandem with the protagonist.
The basic premise and backstory of the movie is eloquently explained, with David Kim (John Cho) looking through past videos of his daughter, Margot (Michelle La) and his late wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) on his computer. This short montage is incredibly effective, with the audience getting a crisp and sweet introduction to the movie’s main characters. At no point is there any loss of emotional depth, we feel every step of the way for David and his family. From Margot’s first day at school, to Pam’s lymphoma diagnosis, the audience is reeled into this family’s life right from the word go—the brutal effectiveness of this montage is driven home by Margot’s first picture from high school, where her mother is missing. Even the most hardened of movie goers should feel a bit bad at this point.
Margot tells her father that she will be pulling an all-nighter at a friend’s house at the start of the movie. Things turn grim pretty quickly, as Margot doesn’t show up the next day. David soon discovers that she’s been skipping her piano classes as well, and we have no choice but to plunge into the rabbit hole. Comedic scenes are perfectly interspersed with the movie’s dark subject matter, and this is one of its many achievements.
Searching is essentially a parent’s worst nightmare, and on a deeper level: a meditation on the nature of relationships. One cannot help but be reminded of the short film “Bedfellows” while watching this movie. How well do you really know the people you love? More specifically, are you willing to confront the reality that the person who you thought was closest to you, isn’t the person that you thought they were? This is the fundamental conundrum at the heart of Searching, an uncomfortable question that we subconsciously ask ourselves everyday we look into a mirror.
John Cho’s performance as panic-stricken father David Kim is an absolute home run. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) and Peter Kim (Joseph Lee) make up the rest of the primary cast; Debra Messing puts forth a surprisingly gritty performance as the lead detective assigned to Margot’s case, and not once do you feel that this is the same quirky Debra from Will and Grace.
Searching is an incredible film, for a very simple reason. The inconspicuous nature of its primary plot device, technology—makes it a spectacular achievement. Not once during David’s frantic search for answers are the audience reminded that they are looking at a computer or smartphone screen. Changanty and Co. expertly draw you into David’s search for his beloved daughter, and as the viewer, we cannot help but unleash our inner armchair detective, trying to piece together what happened with every piece of the jigsaw presented to us on screen.
It is very difficult to say bad things about a movie like Searching, especially in the current dumbed-down cinematic landscape. The sun shines all over the movie, and the only flaw I can think of is that its over too soon. Expect some twists, turns, some more twists and jaw-dropping revelations during the ride.