Directed by Aneesh Chaganty.
Starring John Cho, Michelle La, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Dominic Hoffman, Connor McRaith, Joseph John Schirle, and Debra Messing.
After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
Still not convinced movies unfolding over computer screens are more than style? Director Aneesh Chaganty’s debut feature (who also co-wrote the film with Sev Ohanian) Searching is an emphatic statement on why moviegoers should think otherwise. Taking a page out of Disney/Pixar classic Up, the film begins with a homemade movie montage of David (John Cho delivering a fiery tense performance unlike anything we’ve ever seen from him before as he wades through the Internet and his daughter’s laptop for any clues regarding his her disappearance), daughter Margot throughout various different ages and played by multiple different child actors, and their loving mother Pam who, as the video goes on, we learn has died from a terminal illness. Yes, not even five minutes into the movie, Searching is changing the game in terms of the stories films can tell from nothing but technology screens. The segment will likely have many audience members crying, so just imagine what the rest of this revolutionary mystery thriller is capable of doing to your emotions!
Given that the film is heavily marketed as such, it’s safe to assume that people will come in expecting the same tricks as typically seen in the genre but with a new coat of paint, so to speak. They would be wrong again, as while Searching is definitely here to stump your brain figuring out why the 16-year old Margot (Michelle La turning in an outstanding newcomer performance with difficult to read intentions) suddenly went missing, it’s also a cautionary tale and profoundly illuminating demonstration of Internet dangers, and a heartbreaking look at a father who thought he knew seemingly everything there was to know about his daughter. Many parents are going to strongly relate; sometimes you simply don’t know your children unless you are aware of what they are up to online.
Of course, Searching is also downright clever with how it approaches practically every element to David’s investigation, whether it be jumping through numerous hurdles to gain access to Margot’s email address, breaking his way into her social media accounts (many platforms are explored with all of them utilized effectively), and keeping up-to-date with new developments from the police staff. All of the acting here is done on webcams, and it’s as strong as watching characters discuss the situation face-to-face. And that’s pretty much all anyone should say about the plot in a review here. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t watch it, if there was ever a time to trust the critic, now is it. Go in blind and get yourself rocked by this absolute fucking barn-burner of an ultra-modern thriller.
I will say this, throughout the film are a number of side stories happening concurrently with the main plot. Most of these occur while David browses various news sites. However, there are plenty of details hidden away during his emotionally draining, leave no Internet page or file unchecked steamroll through anything related to Margot, one of which is actually the solution to the mystery. Not only does it go by so fast, but it’s unlikely anyone will catch it anyway. The point is that even though Searching is guaranteed to bring the house down, there is also reason to continuously revisit the experience. Sure, some of the tension will be lost on a repeat viewing, but the movie is stuffed with details deserving of appreciation. Talk about bold and confident directing, this filmmaking team has it in spades and knows they are onto something destined for critical acclaim and inevitable mass copycats that can only hope to be half as worthwhile in quality.
Admittedly, there are a few minor clichés here and there with one subplot in particular feeling forced but nevertheless, everything is still powerful in execution. Also, there is one tell to look out for that gives away when a scene is directly involved with the reason behind Margot going missing, but it’s something nearly impossible to figure out unless someone tells you like the filmmakers did to us following the screening.
Call it hyperbole all you want, but Searching is so damn stressful globs of sweat will be pouring all through your clothes and into the seat. Just don’t forget the reason it works; this premise is hyperrealistic to the times we live in; it examines the very best capabilities of technology (such as preserving familial memories) and some of the worst things that can happen online if people aren’t careful. Additionally, parents will make damn sure they know their children for who they are and have concerns raised about what their offspring are doing out there in the digital realm. With the right creative minds, anything can become compelling. All things considered, yes, one of the very best movies of the year plays out on nothing but computer screens; who said this relatively new genre has to be style over substance or a lame gimmick?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com