Whilst many filmmakers have followed a homemade path that traces back to the likes of The Blair Witch Project, all shaky cameras and ‘found footage’ format, Searching director Aneesh Chaganty has continued the creation of an inventive and original approach to filmmaking. You see, his picture takes place almost entirely on a computer screen. While this has been done with Unfriended (2015), Chaganty’s film is realised with such cleverness that the narrative takes you beyond the screen and into a captivating, character-rich thriller.
After an unexpectedly emotional opening sequence that easily sits up there with Pixar’s UP, don’t say I didn’t warn you, Dad David Kim (John Cho) discovers that his daughter Margot (Michelle La) has mysteriously disappeared, so he turns to her laptop and the internet to trace her whereabouts. In the early moments, we’re unsure whether she’s just skipped school and being a ‘typical’ teenager by not telling her father where she is – we’ve all done it – but as time ticks by, it’s clear something isn’t quite right.
What’s surprising about Searching is how quickly you forget you’re basically just looking at a computer screen. The camera cuts between conversations and searches in a manner similar to how your eyes would on the screen and so if you’re tech savvy, and a regular user in the age of FaceTime, Google, Facebook, Tumblr, and Live Casting, then you’re seamlessly pulled into an engaging world of connection and disconnection all at once.
While our lead character David may be able to login to his daughter’s accounts, through various parent-like methods, we learn with him that maybe he doesn’t know his daughter at all. Are the people he sees online even her real friends? Who are these people sending her messages as she casts herself live to the world? Is his daughter’s life very different to what he expected?
As well as the smart use of tech, the significant thing about Searching is the performances and John Cho, as the desperate Father, brings an authentic, understandable character to the screen. It’s hard to believe you can learn so much from what seems like a small window, no browser pun intended, but the scope of the story and the study of psychological state of the mind, with Cho’s David becoming increasingly desperate for evidence really is fascinating, especially as we witness the increasing self-doubt and distrust of the people around him. On the flipside, Debra Messing’s Detective Rosemary Vick offers up an alternative to his panic, as she steps in to help him with his search and is cool, calm and collected in her mission.
Searching is a film about second chances that features several twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout, it also has an unexpected emotive edge that holds throughout due to the fantastic performance from Cho. It goes to prove that whatever your method, a strong narrative and talented actors do make all the difference.