By Ben Gregory
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A man who cares heavily for his daughter faces the terrifying occurrence of her disappearance and takes it upon himself to either save her or at least find out what happened. No, this isn’t the Taken reboot or sequel that nobody asked for. This is the plot synopsis of Sony’s upcoming film Searching, starring John Cho and Debra Messing.
Earning rave reviews at various festivals earlier this year, Searching takes a familiar story and ambitiously tells it entirely through a computer screen. With the “found footage” film genre existing on very rocky ground since its rise in popularity in the late 2000’s, I had plenty of skepticism when I first encountered the trailer to Searching, which gave me and most audience members heavy flashbacks to 2015’s Unfriended. Yet, the trailer touted its various film festival awards, which had me slightly interested to say the least. After some research and reading plenty of positive reviews, I learned that this movie was created by first time director, long-time Google employee Aneesh Chaganty. My interest kept climbing until I was offered a wonderful chance to see Searching and make my own opinion of it.
Considering the talent both onscreen and offscreen, Searching triumphs in many ways. John Cho thrives as the distressed, paranoid father in search of his missing daughter, carrying the audience through a nerve-racking mystery that plays with your expectations at every twist and turn. With the technological experience that Chaganty has no doubt gained during his time at Google, his film showcases a realistic understanding of the ins and outs of modern technology, contributing to the immersion of the computer screen the audience witnesses on the big screen. Moviegoers are seamlessly guided along a desktop with a cursor, various facetime windows, and multiple internet browser tabs. Simply put, the gimmick of framing the movie around a computer screen works almost every minute of its runtime.
Returning to the focal character of Searching, John Cho has come a long way since his Harold and Kumar days, having dabbled in various dramatic indie flicks and enjoying the occasional Star Trek paycheck. With his face front and center for the majority of the movie, Cho’s expressions of concern and anger contribute to the rising tension that boils over the entire movie. He is great here, which is necessary considering that he is the character we hear and see the most. As for the rest of the cast, Debra Messing fills in the role of the detective assigned to help with the investigation, existing mainly in an audible presence. There are plenty of other characters that fill out the story, but their screen time is minimal, both visually and audibly. Cho carries this film and he carries it well.
Speaking of the story, you rarely know how the mystery is going to play out. On surface level, we’ve all seen movies or heard stories about missing persons but that’s where the familiarity ends. Every time I thought I had an answer to Searching’s overarching mystery, Chaganty’s tight script found a way to toss it aside as quickly as I thought of it, subverting practically any narrative expectation I had for the majority of the plot. The twists and turns in this movie play with you, so tone down any expectation you may have upon admission. The one main drawback I would say I had when it came to the movie’s delivery of its various twists is how long it lingers on each reveal. Focusing on the computer screen for entire film, Cho’s character pieces together parts of the puzzle of his daughter’s disappearance by dragging Internet Explorer browser windows, comparing images, and analyzing text messages. During these moments, the film finds it necessary to zoom in as much as the zoom tool in post-production would probably allow them, almost like the editors had little faith in the average moviegoer’s ability to put two and two together. This may be a bit of a nitpick, but it almost felt like the movie was trying to say “Do you get? This is what happened. You don’t get it? We’re zooming in as much as we can. Do you want us to add bright red arrows!?”
All in all, Searching is a thriller worth checking out, playing into some of the fears parents have about their children’s relationship with the internet. I don’t really want to delve in to too much more about this movie because I feel blindly going into it helps to enhance the experience even more. So, finally, with all of that said, when Searching comes to theaters later this summer, I recommend checking it out!
Searching comes out nationwide August 3rd, 2018.