Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Technology has defined our culture in ways never imagined when people invented computers or smartphones. So it’s only fitting that films start to wander down that path as well, because when people stop showing up to found footage garb like the 17th “Paranormal Activity” studios want to seek out the next best gimmick. In “Searching,” that gimmick doesn’t feel so bloated and washed out. The setup is harmless: instead of your traditional style of filmmaking, the entire scope of the plot is told through the narrative lens of a computer screen or Iphone. And considering we spend most of our daily lives watching concerts through a screen or snapchatting our memories on a cell phone, the irony in “Searching” is that it’s slowly becoming a reality.
Much like the horror film “Unfriended” back in 2015 “Searching” utilizes webcam technology to yield some effective results.
Whereas “Unfriended” used those tactics for shock value - “Searching” tries to impose a familiar story into its coda. John Cho - in a fine dramatic turn - headlines this thriller as David Kim, an app developer whose world is turned upside down when his daughter Margot (Michelle La) disappears without a trace. Where could she have gone? What is the motive? These are questions that David spends this tightly condensed thriller trying to answer. Clicking through old files on Facebook, and falling into the depths of Instagram, Tumblr and YouCast (which we watch and see in real time) trying to piece together a puzzle that’s leaving more questions than answers.
The rabbit hole of technology bares many dark secrets, thus leaving David to figure out his daughter had a few skeletons in her closet - leading a double life he knew nothing about, making things extra tricky. Whichever the case, director Aneesh Chaganty displays a keen sense of awareness as he unravels the twists and surprises in a synchronized fashion, delivering a mostly sharp thriller that hides in plain sight. Even managing to snag Debra Messing for a beefy supporting role as the detective assigned to Margot’s case, who will stop at nothing until she’s found.
Despite the story being less inspired than you’d want (teen goes missing: parent must track her down etc) or the tricks not being as clever as Chaganty would anticipate - the concept is a bold one, told effectively and pieced together with precision. It’s tough to imagine where this subgenre of films could be heading, but for the time being “Searching” raises the bar, and sets a good example for those who wish to follow in its footsteps.