Movie Review: Searching
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
by Jason Koenigsberg
Searching is the kind of tense thriller that pulls the rug out from under you when you least suspect it. It is the kind of film that demands a second viewing since you will know what to look for and will no doubt pick up clues as you watch it again. It has moments that will chill you to the bone and also contains moments that will make you empathize heavily with a grief-stricken father. Searching is a rarity among thrillers that starts off with the gimmick but end up taking you on an invigorating journey. It is another story about how technology in the 21st century about how technology brings people together yet isolates us at the same time. Beneath the thriller elements of Searching lies a powerful story about the lengths parents will go to protect their children.
The movie opens up with a black screen and some ominous then immediately we see a black screen of a PC with Windows circa early 2000’s. Over the next few minutes on that screen, we watch a family of three grow up and age over time. It is the Kim family, David (played by John Cho), his wife Pamela and their daughter Margot. The family grows and evolves as does the technology we watch them on over those few minutes that span about twelve years. We see the mother pass away from cancer and it ends with their daughter Margot off at a private boarding school. The gimmick of the whole movie taking place on screens such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, home surveillance cameras, and news footage does not take away from the suspense or the performances. The director makes great use of a screensaver that we have all probably seen hundreds of times as haunting imagery like a monster or alien creeping up on our protagonist as he sleeps and an important person is calling.
That does not mean that Searching is perfect. Stepping back after the initial twists it does expect the audience to believe some rather far-fetched things and at times patronizes the audience by showing pictures of characters after something obvious was revealed. Just in case we did not realize who that person was on the computer screen, they show the previous picture to confirm it. Some shots were held on the screen for too long, once again probably just to make sure that people definitely saw what the director intended them to see at that moment. The script also takes the film in a very dark direction at one point which was very brave and something most movies would be too afraid to take, only to have that macabre moment be temporary for another surprising turn that lets the characters, and the audience, off the hook from Searching being a ‘feel bad’ downer of a movie.
Searching is very reminiscent of Gone Girl (2014), and it is very clever how the film itself acknowledges that fact in an online message board we see. It takes those mystery and thriller elements and turns it into a sly commentary on social media. The film emerges as a powerful story about guilt, loss, and regret as a grieving family struggles to move on. Also how families members not really knowing each other and being unable to express their emotions during difficult circumstances. Even though some of the liberties the screenplay take may be a stretch the twists and turns near the end are absolutely chilling when they happen.