Alex Dewing reviews Aneesh Chaganty’s newest screen-point-of-view thriller.
It is without question that technology is one of the few aspects of our society that has not ceased to grow at an exponential rate. Apple products are everywhere you look, streaming and VOD services are more popular than ever, and even A.I.s are starting to make their way into our homes. It is no surprise then, that with all this technology comes an underlying, unspoken fear of its omnipresence that has led to it becoming a popular feature of horror films; think The Ring, Unfriended, or Channel 4’s tv movie Cyberbully. There is, therefore, a sigh of relief and curious raise of the eyebrow when Sony Pictures announced Aneesh Chanty’s Searching, a film set entirely on laptop screens and isn’t a horror. In fact, Searching promises to be a hyper-modern crime thriller and utterly delivers.
Opening on the well-known Windows home screen, the first five minutes of Searching tell the story of the Kims’ life in a sequence as emotionally charged as Pixar’s Up. After adding ‘New User: Margot’, an array of photos and videos of the little girl growing up fills the screen. It radiates nostalgia throughout, reminding you of the files storing all your childhood memories and how cool it was to come home to MSN. Alongside this warmth, however, is the story of Margot’s mother’s battle with lymphoma. It shifts the mood of the sequence as the event ‘Mom comes home!’ is pushed back again and again.
When we finally are met with the present, after you come to realise that that sequence was only an introduction and not the saddest short film of all time, the real story takes off. Margot has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared following a late-night study session. Police are called and a detective assigned. Meanwhile David (John Cho), Margot’s father and desperate to help, searches through his daughter’s laptop for anything that could provide an answer. It sets up a seemingly typical mystery-thriller and, as expected, little more can be said about the films plot without risk of spoiling the experience.
Because that is what Searching is: an experience. You may go in expecting to be bored by a regular crime story held up only by its ‘gimmick’, but it becomes evident that, as the narrative progresses, there is no other way that this story could be told and have resulted in the same emotional response. Faced with the exact same screen that David is seeing, aided occasionally by attempts to diversify the visuals through close-ups and cutaways, you are asked to play detective, to scour the pages alongside David, and to find the clues. Thrillers rely on the efficacy of the pacing, and it is here that Searching undeniably excels. An ominous sense of dramatic irony hangs over the first act, as David is led to believe Margot was never in harms way and simply carrying out an act of teenage rebellion by bunking off school. However, when the truth comes out, the race to find Margot is laden with more panic and dread due to those lost hours of policing. From then on, it is twist after twist, with none leaving you feeling cheated. On reflection, everything adds up. You just didn’t catch it.
John Cho proves himself to be one of the most underrated actors right now through his visceral performance as David. Through the FaceTime app, conveniently left open on screen, his character is realised with such brutal realism made all the worse by the sleazy feeling that comes from the use of screens. Would David allow himself to break down in tears in front of his family or friends? Probably not, but he will when he’s alone, staring at a computer screen. It’s tonally voyeuristic, heightening Cho’s performance by breaking down the barriers of typical film cinematography.
With its quiet diversity, unsuspecting thematics, and a spectacular score from Torin Borrowdale, Searching is an assured and singular debut from Chaganty that will surely become a key piece of mystery-thriller cinema. Certainly a must watch for 2018 that will leave you wanting to change your laptop password immediately.
Searching is currently released in UK cinemas. Check out its trailer below: