Searching movie review: One of the most innovative thrillers of the year; seek it out, spread the word
Searching movie review: John Cho stars in the most innovative, white-knuckle thriller of 2018, with shades of Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie. Absolutely unmissable. Rating: 4/5.Updated: Sep 02, 2018 12:09 IST
Director - Aneesh Chaganty
Cast - John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La
Rating - 4/5
The surest sign of a good thriller is to see how well it works within the confines of the genre – whether or not it is able to offer a fresh take on familiar themes, and how well it is able to conceal twists and turns from an audience that has been conditioned to take nothing at face value. A great thriller, however, is one whose restrictions are self-imposed.
That’s what sets films like Rear Window apart from any another psychological thriller. That’s what set Memento apart from Ghajini. In choosing to restrict Jimmy Stewart to his bedroom and in choosing a non-linear narrative over something more traditional, Alfred Hitchcock and Christopher Nolan took risks and created masterpieces. This isn’t to say that Searching is on a par with those films, but in an age that has witnessed three Taken movies and even more rip-offs, it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.
Watch the Searching trailer here
Searching, at least on paper, is like any other missing child thriller that you might have seen – films like the recent Prisoners, or the excellent (and rather undiscovered) TV series, The Missing. But the challenge it has set for itself is to tell its story entirely from within computer screens – laptops, smart phones and CCTVs.
John Cho plays David Kim, a single father whose teenage daughter Margot goes missing one night. He calls up the police later than usual because he is led to believe that she’d gone on a trip with her friends without informing him. But soon, his worst fears come true. Margot is gone. And because of the wasted time, the police are already on the back foot.
To aid them in the investigation, David wants to help in whatever way he can, so he begins going through Margot’s computer, looking for clues that could point to where she could have gone. He scours her Facebook page, scrolls the entire length of her Instagram account, tracks her messages and even checks her bank account. His search leads him to the dark corners of the web, and throws up enough quality red herrings to make Agatha Christie proud.
At any given moment in Searching, there are several tabs open on David’s laptop – which essentially function as different shot options available for director Aneesh Chaganty to choose from. Unlike Spielberg or Shyamalan, who are both known for their dynamic camerawork, Chaganty must find new ways in which to direct the audience’s attention to where he wants it. So he uses cursors and desktop alerts in the same manner as David Fincher would use a dolly. Music is usually what’s playing on YouTube, and essential exposition is delivered with the help of Google Maps. It’s ingenious, really.
One scene of online sleuthing is particularly exciting. It takes David to his late wife’s old Windows 98 system and ends with him trying to crack Margot’s password. While the tragedy of losing a child is something most of us can only imagine, the frustration of having forgotten a password and the subsequent process of setting a new one is one we can all relate to.
Producer Timur Bekmambetov, who made a name for himself by directing glossy action films, has curiously announced that he would be dedicating his future career to making only these small computer screen thrillers – as if he’s some sort of discount James Cameron (who has, of course, said that he will only make Avatar movies from now on). It’s too early to know just how long this subgenre will last or whether it will go the way of the found-footage movie, but Searching has already pushed it into areas that not too many found-footage films were brave enough to venture into.
While the temptation is to simply follow in the footsteps of films such as Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project by replacing Handycams with phone screens (exactly as similar computer screen movies such as Open Windows and Unfriended have done), Searching is more than just an empty stylistic exercise. Beneath the cool techno thrills, there is a beating heart.
Through his investigations, David is introduced to a Margot that he knows nothing about – a grieving teenage girl who has created another life online to cope with the loss of her mother. Exactly how Chaganty managed to evoke real emotion despite such a clinical aesthetic is beyond me, but a good part of Searching’s success can be attributed to John Cho, who – incidentally – has become the first Asian American actor to lead a mainstream Hollywood thriller with this film.
His face, because of the whole computer screen thing, is usually framed in a close-up. And there’s barely a scene where David isn’t at least in the corner of the screen – frustrated at the police, tense with worry and exhausted with fear.
Searching is the sort of movie that will need your support – you must seek it out and spread the word. It will find its true audience when it is released on streaming - because of obvious reasons - but now, and for the future, we must champion it.