Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Michelle La, Debra Messing
In a world where this new technological narrative style is mostly becoming normalized in abhorrent movies, Searching provides a glimmer of hope. Even though the film’s premise and plot aren’t actually about anything technological, director Aneesh Chaganty manages to maintain a discipline in its presentation, bringing us footage from video cameras, security footage and newscasts to round out parts of the story. Although Chaganty is relatively unknown, it can be assumed from this film that he has the kind of innovative mind needed to direct films to original and exciting lengths.
In the beginning we get a sweet, albeit cheesy montage of videos of the Kim family throughout the years from Margot’s (Michelle La) birth to her mother’s untimely death when Margot’s in her teen years. Then we witness a FaceTime call between Margot and David Kim (John Cho), the patriarch. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, he’s concerned but still wondering if she’ll ever take the trash out, she’s busy and pushing him away. The call ends abruptly, and we see David texting his daughter, almost telling her how proud her mother would be, deleting it at the last second. This is the first seed of suspicion planted to implement a sense of distance between the two.
Margot doesn’t return that night, nor the forthcoming day. The idea of his daughter missing creeps up on David, and he grows in desperation as he begins to conduct a search for her. He gets an empathetic detective (Debra Messing) to assist, and breaks into Margot’s laptop for answers. As expected, the deeper he digs, the more detached he feels from her.
To put it simply, Searching excels in bringing its audience to the forefront of the very forefront of the very personal mystery at hand. There are numerous suspects and variables at play in the final documented days of Margot Kim, and as a viewer you are just as keen in prying them open as David is. David may not fully know her in the beginning, but everyone will know Margot by the end of the film’s runtime. The film brilliantly showcases the way both computer documentation and the Internet have been fully normalized in modern society, one girl’s Macbook encapsulating most of the details of her life.
Despite its premise being covered ground, I don’t think I’ve seen many do it better. There’s a good and surprising sense of humor presented by Searching, even if not all of it seems warranted, with some coming in the throes of what should be a dramatic moment. And although there are multiple routes to be taken by David, some of them feel like screenwriting afterthoughts, produced only to make the film longer or to tease the viewer.
The film takes a step back from genuine realism with its final unveiling; there is one too many coincidences in an all-too-perfect storm of tragic events. With that, the film seems to end with unrealistic optimism. And while the dynamic between Margot and David is certainly delved into, and despite David’s brother also being a primary character, many will be unfulfilled with David’s own lack of development in this personal journey of his.
Those Unfriended films have certainly given these new web-based found footage films a rough start. But films like Searching show us that styles like these are not inherently flawed, they simply need to be armed with impassioned scripts and a story truly worth telling.