Searching, from first time feature director Aneesh Chaganty, had a lot of buzz coming out of Sundance, picking up a couple of awards while it was there and getting generally favourable reviews from critics and audience members.
It’s a movie that takes place entirely from a computer screen, whether that’s a laptop or an iPhone in some moments where it needs to get out of the house. It’s not a new concept by any means, and most people’s introduction to this format was Noah, a short film by a couple of students from 2012. This sparked a lot of conversation about how cool a concept it is. That is until Unfriended came along and bored people to death with taking the idea and turning it into a horror film. So, it’s safe to say I was sceptical going in.
Thankfully, Searching is nothing like those that came before it. It’s a mystery about a desperate single father looking for clues on the strange disappearance of his daughter. The film opens with a montage of the little girl, Margot, growing up with her family. You cannot help but get vibes of a sweet advert from Apple or Google that goes through someone’s life. It has the life moments, in your face logos for websites, and most importantly the cute piano music. The main upbeat theme makes an appearance throughout the film, changing its mood the further we get into the mystery. It makes sense for it to feel like this though, as Chaganty has a background in internet videos including a short film promoting Google Glass and a lot of Buzzfeed content. In this brief but emotive segment we learn about Margot and her interests, and most importantly, the unfortunate passing of her mum. All of this sets up the relationship she has with her father.
Her father, David, is played by Star Trek (the new ones) actor John Cho. He provides a great performance: completely devastated but not losing hope. I’d imagine it would be hard to be this good when having to perform to a camera by yourself, with nobody talking back to you. When he is in scenes where the other actors are present in the room with him, he is even better. He must carry this movie and he does so almost effortlessly.
The detective assigned to the case, Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), is one of the best cops in the area and is the one that tells David he must go through his daughter’s online presence to look for clues. Her character and many of the others in this movie gave me a weird feeling. All their comments and encounters with David felt like commands in a video game.
While the film does work, is engaging and pretty good, I couldn’t help but have the feeling I was watching a YouTube video or watching someone play a video game. Emily is Away came to mind, mainly due to it taking place on a desktop, but it doesn’t fit in with my theory behind the feeling. I felt it may be because the side characters all have pretty dodgy dialogue, very on the nose about where David has to check and what he has to do.
The main mystery in the movie is engaging and full of twists that I personally didn’t see coming. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I think the movie would be better seen with minimal spoilers. With mystery movies like this I sometimes get a shock even from blatantly obvious ones, but this feels like one of the better ones. It also manages to get the internet right for the most part. All the sites it uses have a purpose (to show you something about Margot’s life) and feel real, as they do when you go onto them normally.
If I were to nit-pick it would be that even when David isn’t on a Facetime call to someone, the video from his camera will drop in quality and become pixellated. It looks like it was done in an effort to have something happen on screen, but it’s small things like that, that will spit you out of the movie.
Overall, Searching is a solid mystery movie with great twists and turns for people to get stuck into. The audience I saw it with had a great reaction to some of the reveals, which makes it worth the trip to the cinema in my eyes. John Cho carries the movie well, but you will be let down by the quality of some of the side characters.
Searching will be released on August 1st in the US, and August 30th in the UK.