An old adage states that it only takes seven seconds to make a good first impression; obviously, some leniency is offered to film directors for this unwritten rule. When trailers for rookie filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching first popped up on television and the Internet, everyone rolled their eyes and prepared to write Chaganty off as an unoriginal hack. The kidnapping story had been done since the dawn of the century, in a mass of madly mediocre movies such as Olympus Has Fallen, The Call, and Kidnap, adding absolutely nothing new of note to the genre. Searching vows to set itself apart and above from its counterparts — and it certainly delivers.
Searching wastes little time, beginning with a colossal bang that toys with the emotions of its audience until every last breath they emit is some form of saying “aww”. In the opening, a montage of home videos is shown of the Kim family, which consists of loving patriarch David (played by John Cho, known for his roles in films such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and Star Trek), his studious daughter Margot – a child piano prodigy – and the late matriarch Pam, whose death has dramatically changed the lives of her husband and daughter. Most noticeably, the perilous passing of Pam has somewhat strained the relationship of David and Margot, whose occasionally awkward text messages are shown on-screen. While Margot is at her weekly biology study group meeting, she fails to return home, making David increasingly nervous. He decides to plug his nose and dive into the “cloud” that is Margot’s social media, contacting her Facebook friends, all of whom give similar responses that they do not know Margot very well, nor do they have any clue surrounding her sudden disappearance. David takes action and files a missing person report, coming into contact with Detective Rosemary Vick, portrayed by Primetime Emmy Award winner Debra Messing (NBC’s Will and Grace, Along Came Polly). While Vick is preoccupied with playing by the books, David continues on his expedition across the World Wide Web, just clicks away from uncovering his daughter’s disappearance; YouCast, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and the text messages between Margot and others all play equally vital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that David is desperate but determined to fit together.
Searching may contain a formulaic and tired story on paper, but compensates by complementing it with a visual approach that is unique, entertaining, and guaranteed to be imitated-although probably with less success-for years to follow. The entirety of the film takes place as if it is from the viewpoint of a computer, with several scenes of “dialogue” conveyed through text messages and climactic moments shown to the audience via FaceTime and live webcam streams. The film is comparable to The Blair Witch Project’s found-footage style, which has been duplicated, parodied, and alluded to since its release in the tail-end of the second millennium. What Searching has that the wildly overrated The Blair Witch Project didn’t is a compelling story festooned with ministration to detail, and stellar acting from a cast that boasts history-making racial diversity for a mainstream motion picture. Particular emphasis should be placed on the film’s former of the two aforementioned strengths, as viewers will be unable to resist playing detective and trying to uncover the mystery before the film concludes, only to have to pick their jaws up from off the floor with every shocking plot twist thrown in their face. Director Aneesh Chaganty holds the magic wand, sprinkling clues and hints about the outcome throughout the film, thus making Searching a rare movie that is just as fun to watch during the second viewing as it is the initial viewing.
As far as the acting, John Cho excels in his role as a helicopter parent who sees his world crashing down right in front of his eyes. Cho’s character, David Kim, sees his daughter Margot as the last remaining shred of memory he has of the wife he loved who was taken from him prematurely. Cho knocks this emotional mindset out of the park and into the hearts of the audience. You can hear and see the increase of desperation and frustration in his voice and facial expression every single time he gets closer to finding his daughter’s location, only to be pushed back by obstacles. Whether these are obstacles that he stumbles upon while surfing the Web, or obstacles that chase him offline, John Cho steals the show in Searching. As an actor who has largely flown under the radar, seemingly trapped in the purgatory of the Tinseltown’s “B”-list of performers, John Cho finally has his time to shine.
Searching may be a thrill ride of epic proportions; however, in spite of its strengths, its conclusion is underwhelming, especially when being held in the same esteem as the film’s tear-jerking opening driven by pathos, or its turbulent and unpredictable second act. As for audiences who view the film, it won’t take a film connoisseur to know that Searching’s resolution was rushed and consisted of much less effort than its magnificently melancholy introduction, its satisfyingly stirring situation, and the curiously crazy complications in its story. In fact, the final scene of the film is so generic – even with its retention of the neat “digital” technique – that it feels like it was quite literally copied and pasted from a book of ideas for clichéd film endings.
Rookie director Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching is a captivating story that takes clichés and tropes the audience thinks they know, twisting them into submission. Refusing to settle for simply “good,” the film strives for greatness by boasting a fresh style of storytelling that the audience will remember every time they glide their fingers across the keyboard and cruise onto the world’s Information Superhighway. The film even shows shades of subtle but brilliant social commentary in its proof of how the evolution of technology and social media has both complicated and facilitated getting to know one’s peers. While David may have had Margot’s whole entire world in his hands thanks to the Internet, he was given a much-needed reality check on the true colors of his daughter and the mask she wore. If only this mystery’s makers could have saved some more mental energy for the final five minutes of the film, it would have not only prevented a disappointing ending; it also might not have weighed down the potential legacy of the picture for years to come. Rating: ⅘
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Peter Lee
Running time: 1 hr 42 minutes