I remember seeing Unfriended and scoffing at the gimmick being set up by a film that takes place entirely through the perspective of a computer screen, if there were any reason for me to be skeptical of yet another film set within this point of view produced by Timur Bekmambetov. Searching, the feature film debut of Aneesh Chaganty, tells another story that feels like it could only work so effectively because it’s told the exact way that it is. But when you watch everything unfold in the same way that Searching shows you, something about it just feels like what you hadn’t seen before. Because it isn’t the sort of movie that you would expect for something that shows everything unfolding from the perspectives of computer screens and smartphones – it’s also something more human.
John Cho leads the way as David Kim, making him the first Asian-American actor to lead a mainstream thriller in Hollywood. With this of course being an important precedent, David Kim’s story is also one that still feels universal. He once had a life like any other family, happily married and with a single daughter named Margot, but all that changed after his wife dies of cancer. The relationship with his daughter has only changed since, becoming more protective of Margot, but he finds himself pushed towards the edge after her sudden disappearance. Being both about the investigation to find out what happened to Margot and David’s own grief after having lost his wife, Searching finds itself stretching its gimmick of being told through a group of screens in order to tell a story that feels so universal.
Being told through the eyes of technology what Searching captures also incites a sense of claustrophobia, knowing that you are only able to see what happens in one area whereas everything else you are made to know about the world that David Kim knows can all be told through what is saved on his computer and Margot’s. It’s impressive to me just knowing that Aneesh Chaganty could tell so much with that little room to explore about an entire world and even a lifetime. With an opening scene that details every venture of the Kim family from Margot’s childhood to the passing of her mother, you already feel as if you’re watching in front of your eyes what such memories can shape in a person’s life, and what happens if something so big and meaningful to such a life gets taken away in an instant.
Yet from there onward, it also gets even more impressive because of how every detail you see on the screen just reflects paranoia about the nature of the situation we’re placed within. Aided by a wonderful performance from John Cho, everything also gets much better from there because the tension all arises from how his grief has affected the way in which he has interacted with his daughter, but you’re still made to play detective along the ride too. From as much as a notification sound or the periods that symbolize a message being typed by the sender, you also find yourself on the edge of your seat. But everything that slowly builds its way up front, from playing upon how the audience remembers such details, even if you find yourself catching onto them so easily, it still racks up such well-earned tension.
This may not be a story that hasn’t already been told already in the past, but it’s impressive enough to me knowing that Chaganty still found a way to make it work the way he did. Perhaps I may have seen its twist coming, but there’s also another commentary at play regarding the generational gap that the way people interact with technology makes clear, creating something more devastating at hand. But if I were to talk about a film being devastating, that also happened to be the last thing I would ever have expected myself to get from Searching. Not only is this film far from what you would expect from its storytelling gimmick, but it’s also something much more innovative and emotional. And perhaps the latter was all that was needed in order to make Searching feel every bit as intense as it did. For a directorial debut, this is an incredibly accomplished effort and I’m looking forward to what Aneesh Chaganty has in store for the future.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sony.
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Sev Ohanian, Natalie Qasabian, Adam Sidman
Starring John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee
Release Year: 2018
Running Time: 102 minutes