Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Length: 105 minutes
“Searching” tells the story of a father (John Cho) desperately trying to find his missing teenage daughter (Michelle La). If the premise sounds familiar, the style and execution is unique and left me stunned. The entire film takes place on the family’s computer and phone screens. The search unfolds over social media posts, Google searches and streaming news. The characters are seen reacting to events thanks to FaceTime and webcams. When I first heard about this format, I was skeptical, but within the first minute of the film I was assured that Chaganty, who also co-wrote the script, had the skills and the characters to pull this off.
I read very little about the film before seeing it tonight, and I highly recommend that you do the same. There will be no spoilers here, so feel comfortable reading on. In what little reading I conducted, I came across some critics who felt the style of the film limited the actors. I disagree. Just like any other film, their faces, their words and their body language are on screen. It may be a smaller section of the screen, but it is effective. I have little doubt it was challenging for the actors, but a challenge is a good thing. Cho and others have to react in a way that is not only appropriate for the emotions of a given scene, but also in a way that is realistic of someone sitting in front of the computer. This is done well throughout the film, and I can’t think of a moment where any of the acting choices felt wrong. It’s not going to win anyone Oscars. Much of the acting does consist of voice over work, but that gives what is shown onscreen extra punch.
The story comments on how social media, like all other media (and it makes the comparison well), can positively and negatively affect our lives. It’s fitting that this and “Eighth Grade” were released within a few months of each other. In many ways they make the same points, but the stories couldn’t be more different.
If I have any issue with the film, it’s that occasionally the cuts to news footage streaming on the computer seem like a cheat. Most of what is explained in these segments couldn’t be explained in a better manner, but it’s a compliment to how well the rest of the scenes are that these moments still had me wishing that Chaganty had found another way to convey a few of these plot points.
Like many crime thrillers, this is certain to be less thrilling from a story standpoint in terms of repeat viewing, but I have a feeling I will revisit it anyway. The technical expertise on display here begs to be evaluated several times. If you love a good mystery and a lot of great didn’t-see-that-coming moments, you should see this before it leaves theaters. This is the kind of film that, with the right audience, will be enhanced by a shared viewing experience.
On the face, this film had the potential to really suck. I am happy to report though that it was actually quite wonderful. When we first saw the trailer, I was a little concerned about the entire film being seen through a second device such as a webcam or a cell phone. I was afraid that it would be distracting to watch the entire film that way. However, I think it really added an extra level of suspense and really drove the anxiety that the viewer experiences throughout the course of the film. There were a few times that the shots were really blurry for no particular reason, but honestly that is my biggest complaint about how this film was shot.
Aneesh Chaganty did a great job shooting this film in a way that made the viewer develop a lot of feelings towards the characters. The first two minutes of the film allow you to fall in love with this family. While the rest of the film leads the viewer to question the intentions of every character that is introduced. John Cho and Debra Messing lead a very compelling cast of characters that will have you questioning everything by the time the end credits begin. If you think I am being intentionally vague, you are correct. This is a film that is driven by its intense plot twists and I am not about to give anything away.
With that being said, this probably isn’t a film you will watch over and over. Once you know the plot twists, the magic is lost. There was one character that I wish had been explored a bit more, but honestly, those are my biggest complaints. I really thought this was a film that I would be writing a negative review for. The viewing experience of this film though was one unlike any other I have ever had.