‘SEARCHING’ is directed by Aneesh Chaganty, and stars John Cho, Debra Messing, and Michelle La. This would be considered a computer-screen movie. The story takes place entirely on laptop screens and other digital devices like the 2015 horror film ‘Unfriended.’ The plot revolves around a widower who desperately tries to track down his missing 16-year old daughter through the clues he finds on her various social media accounts.
Recently in the world of cinema it seems like the horror genre can often give new film techniques a bad rap. The found-footage sub-genre does have its positives when done properly. Unfortunately, most films use it to often mask over a lack of substance to heighten suspense that the narrative alone can’t provide. Thus, the found-footage technique has a somewhat tainted appeal.
In comes the computer-screen movie. Stories that take place entirely on different screens within the screen we are watching. To give off a more immersive point-of-view which I find to be effective. The previously mentioned horror film ‘Unfriended’ was not overly creative as far as plot-progression. But it was a film that did use this unique element to add some appeal to an otherwise, been-there-done-that high-school horror romp.
‘Searching’ attempts to take this technique and weave it into a grounded, realistic thriller. Something it without-a-doubt succeeds in accomplishing. This film grabbed my imagination, and my heart right away and gripped it tightly throughout the saga of this father trying to find his missing daughter. While at the same time discovering he didn’t know her as much as he had assumed.
Watching the story progress and seeing layers to it peel back through the various windows inside the computers and phones was surprisingly fascinating. It did feel slightly hectic at times, but for the most part the information revels itself very timely to keep the tension at a continually high-level.
The story lays out a brief family backdrop and from there you as the viewer learn things in real-time with the main character. It made me feel like I was connected to the character and experiencing his fear and stress along with him. That element added with a true aura of unpredictability made this a compelling thriller to watch as it twists and turns its way to the end.
It routinely had me guessing. It also had me on edge with some unexpected story directions that were nicely executed. The story also uses the current society of social media in a realistic way to capture how many relationships in the family are in the era of an online-generation. It explores the disconnect from authentic real-life relationships that can easily happen without you even realizing it and I felt this added another compelling layer to invest in.
However, the well-planned story-line was not the only element that carried the intrigue in this thriller. John Cho delivers a very emotionally charged performance that absolutely resonated with me. I often relate Cho to his comedic performances, but he was able to show some very sincere emotion throughout the constant turmoil his character is forced to deal with. He was charming when the story needed him to be, and he captured the dynamics of a desperate father with realism. This movie was reliant on Cho, and he delivers a multi-layered performance that never felt forced.
Debra Messing and Michelle La also provide the film with some naturally genuine performances that were effective for enhancing their character types. They both brought heart to their roles and it enabled them to leave the needed impact on the story that wrapped nicely around Cho’s performance.
For what this film was set out to accomplish, and the grounded story it wanted to tell, it succeeds. It isn’t filled with intricate dialogue and big studio polish. It’s a subtle thriller that builds tension very well and provides genuine misdirection. The performance was Cho was great. And sure, some of the information does reveal itself a little quickly at times on the various screens and windows, but it still does what a great suspense/thriller should do. It builds tension and has you guessing till the end.