Technology has done a lot for our culture. It’s allowed people from different worlds to meet and share ideas, for families separated by distance to stay close, and allowed for us to advance in daily mechanics in ways unimaginable in our yesteryears. It has also separated us from those within reach as we spend the majority of the day with our face engaged with an electronic device. Either way you look at it, technology has become a double edged sword in our culture.
Director and writer Anessh Chaganty, along with co-writer Sev Ohanian, took used this dilemma to create a unique thriller, Searching, that plays on all of our fear yet also sprinkles a hint of reassurance in our daily documentation. Using creative visuals, their film showcases technology in all its gore and glory.
Searching is about David Kim (John Cho), a father’s frantic search for his missing teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) through her digital footprint on her various social media sites. Decorated officer Detective Vick (Debra Messing) is immediately assigned to the case and soon becomes the tangible investigator to David’s virtual one. It’s not long, however, until David realizes that he may not know his daughter as well as he thinks he does.
We’ve been exposed to stories like these before, the plot in and of itself is not distinctive, but what makes this film stand out is the way the story is presented. From the moment the film starts, the audience is exposed to a new visual experience. The audience is introduced to the Kim family through their digital imprint, pretty much from Margot’s birth, by photos and other online materials. It not only serves the purpose of an introduction to the characters and their lives up until now, but it’s a way to ease the audience into the unique visual storytelling tools Chaganty employs.
The way the history of this family unfolds through ‘show don’t tell’ is brilliant, one truly does allow their personality to show through their computer personalization. This history also plays a large role in the relationship between David and Margot, and within the first few moments of the film we already feel connected to the characters. This instantly becomes more than a missing persons case, it’s a missing family friend.
Like the “hand-held” camera craze of the previous decade, visuals through laptop cameras seems to be the next new trend. What separates Searching from the other films in this sub-genre is that the story and cinematography work well together. The tension of a missing person’s case mixed with the investigation through the computer works perfectly together because of the way the information is presented. Even though the information is presented in a specific way, if you pay attention to the peripheral elements of her life online you become aware of Margot’s true life which is different than the life her father thinks she has. The audience is then gifted with the real time reaction of David as he becomes aware of his daughter’s secret life, and each click on the mouse mimics the ticking clock of the time Margot’s been gone. The tension is also used well in the terms of stagnancy of being stuck at home. David isn’t out hitting the pavement in his search, and because of that the stir crazy sensation of being at home quickly turns into tension.
One may be quick to reason that the cinematography plus the film genre is a perfect blend for this well-done movie, but in truth the success of Searching also lies on the talent of Cho. I’ve been a fan of his since Better Luck Tomorrow, and was delighted to see the full evolution and range of his ability showcased in this film. David goes through a wide range of emotions throughout the story, and the audience witnesses Cho express those effortlessly through minimal facial expressions. Emotions can be hard to portray without word cues, and definitely without action-reaction of scene partners, but Cho masters both. The audience spends the whole film beside Cho’s David, and through everything we are glad we have a screen partner to share the ups and downs with.
Throughout it all, the tension and the turns, an interesting question arises: where are we our true selves? For years it’s been thought that our online personas are fabricated, altered to make us look better, but Searching proves that it may in fact be the opposite. The character of David is presented with the realization that the happy-go-lucky daughter he sees everyday is not the real Margot. It also addresses the idea that our society is so dependent on our worldly presence as we lose connections with those around us. It’s not so much as a discussion of the right or wrong answer as it is pointing out an awareness to the growing disconnection from tangible life.
The experience presented in Searching is not only unique but a refreshing ride. The balance of innovative visual techniques with trembling tension creates a must-see thriller.
Searching opens nationwide Friday, August 31st.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Screen Gems