Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La
After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her. (Source: IMDb)
The found-footage genre is something frequently utilised (and with varying success) in horror movies, and is a trope that is sometimes a little tiresome. Handheld shaky camera work certainly lends itself to certain films, but there is none of that in Searching. Instead, it is a rather slickly shot thriller, utilising technology and being told almost entirely through computer screens. Through Facetime, instant messaging, email and more, we are fully immersed in this film right from the start, and the result is utterly thrilling.
The opening 10 minutes play out to heartbreaking effect much like the wordless opening of Pixar’s Up, and Searching’s intro is just as devastating as its animated counterpart. It sets up the premise and the characters and means we’re fully invested in the father-daughter relationship between David (Cho) and Margot (La) that is essential for making the rest of the film work.
It is unfortunate that the style of this film is being sold as a “gimmick” because it is anything but. The editing and utilisation of the technology available ensures the “gimmick” is quickly forgotten, and the story is so immersive that everything else seems secondary.
It’s pacey, brilliantly constructed, and the twists and turns of the story lead to some genuinely shocking moments. As with any effective thriller, it is difficult to try and figure out where it will end up, and Searching manages to surprise time and time again. It also has some wonderfully tender moments, and ones that will particularly resonate with parents. This film is after all about every parent’s worst nightmare and the film manages to effectively show the lengths a parent would go to for their child through the characters of David and Detective Vick (Messing).
Whilst the initial viewing will undoubtedly be the most effective, there is a great deal to be appreciated about a second viewing as well. There’s visual clues littered all over the place, and its immersive style ensures there is always something happening on screen that you need to look out for.
Performance wise, John Cho is truly magnificent here, carrying the film effectively and ensuring the emotion and drama resonates throughout. You truly believe he is a panic-stricken father doing anything he can to find his daughter, and without a performance like this, the film would fall apart.
I saw this movie and you should too. One of the real surprises of the year, this film runs the risk of flying under the radar, however it is easily one of the most effective and enjoyable thrillers I have seen in recent years. It succeeds in being a thoroughly modern thriller, using the technology in a way that is appropriate, and so slickly done that any talk of a “gimmick” is easily pushed aside. The story barrels along, delivering surprises in abundance, and never out-staying its welcome. This is a film well-worth seeking out, and against all odds, might just be one of the year’s best.