Searching Film Review

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One of the most unorthodox films to be made in as long as I can remember, Searching is the story of a father’s desperation after his daughter’s disappearance. The catch? The entire story is told from the screen of a laptop computer. If you can’t realistically imagine how that’s possible, join the club. I’ll try to explain as best I can. The film isn’t shot with a moving camera, rather it is a combination of text screens, Skype calls, YouTube videos, and social media accounts that all come and go on the face of a desktop, and, occasionally, a laptop, computer. If I put a camera on your laptop screen for a while, what you’d see is more or less exactly how the entire film is put on screen. The film stars John Cho and Debra Messing as the father and the leading police officer.

In case I haven’t made it obvious, I was very confused by the idea of this film before I saw it. I’ve always taken issue with gimmicks, they irritate the crap out of me, and that’s what the concept sounded like: a gimmick. It sounded like they were trying to make a quirky, “interesting” film more than a good one, and, while people are entitled to make whatever they want, I find that “interesting” concept films have a nasty habit of trading substance for style a little too willingly. That was my perspective, until I saw this film. Searching is a scarily well told story, considering the theoretically limited way in which they chose to tell it. David Kim, portrayed by John Cho, is a shockingly well rounded character; thanks largely in part to a heartfelt performance from Cho. I’d say Debra Messing was good, not exceptional. I can’t say I saw the twist with her character coming, but I had a feeling there was more than met the eye with her. She was too bland to have been all that she appeared to be (dangerously toeing the spoiler line here).

The credit for Cho’s performance, for which I’m shocked he’s received little to no critical acclaim, has to go to some really inventive writing. Being from Gen Z, it’s crazy to see a character drawn so well using text messages. The messages we don’t send have as much meaning as the ones we do, and at least a third to half of David Kim’s characterization is done over iMessage through his text style. More striking than Cho’s performance is the coherency of the the story being told. Ten minutes in I was intrigued but apprehensive; how exactly were they planning to sustain a thriller like this? I’ve seen suspense brought about in a lot of different ways, but never through the snail-like scrolling of a girl’s text messages with her uncle, or a sudden pause and rewind of a YouTube video. Music is important, I’d say they’re probably dependent on it. That’s not a bad thing, they’ve made expert use of their music, but it’s the only mode with which to cover up for the lack of action and whatnot. There’s not an ounce of flash in this film, but plenty of suspense nonetheless.

Alongside the crazy technical aspect of the film, it’s impossible to forget that this is a plastic and metal film about flesh and blood, and the complexity of the relationships that come in the box. The first ten minutes or so give you a compelling picture of a family of three, and the harrowing events that turned three to four, and it’s incredible how they maintain an emotionally potent thread for all the relationships they describe. Again, testament to the meaning behind the texts we don’t send as much as the ones we do, and the most critical subtext behind the smallest of gestures. Make no mistake, this is an emotionally sophisticated film, and it does it in a way that I for one have never seen before.

There’s an obvious thematic conversation to be had here. Our reliance on social media, and the things we can find out about each other on social media, are ideas that have undoubtedly stayed with me after watching Searching. I should say, I’m not on any social media, so I don’t know how far I can relate to the issue, but there’s no real veil over how much information we put on social media, and how much we probably shouldn’t. One way or another, promise you have not been made to care on a screen in quite the way you will be here. There’s an extent to which I take my impressions with salt. It’s entirely possible that, simply by virtue of the fact that I haven’t ever seen anything like it before, I’m a little too blindsided to know the difference between good and bad. I know I was committed, which was not among the things I was expecting to happen when I switched on a film I was apprehensive of. There’s no doubt about it, this one’s no gimmick.

– Aman Datta

Aman’s Score – 83/100                                                                    Aryamaan’s Score –