The found footage concept has been done over and over again in many different genres. Because of this, it was interesting to see how this concept was revitalized in “Searching”, a thriller by director Aneesh Chaganty that transfers the video cam found footage concept to the laptop screen, keeping viewers engaged and invested in this story all the way until the end.
“Searching” was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival last January 2018, and was released in the United States in August, and in the Philippines in September 2018. It was directed by Aneesh Chaganty, and was written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian. Aside from the interesting premise that the entire movie is set on the screens of laptops and smart phones, this film was also touted as the first Hollywood thriller to star an Asian American actor.
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The movie depicts a parent’s worst nightmare, set entirely on laptop and smart phone screens. The audience follows David Kim (John Cho), a distraught father searching for his sixteen year old daughter, Margot (Michelle La), who suddenly goes missing. He teams up with Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), who is assigned to her case; and tries to uncover Margot’s digital footsteps to look for clues. As the movie twists and turns as he uncovers the truth, David also comes to a better understanding of his teenage daughter, whom he initially thought he knew pretty well.
To be honest, I became interested in this movie because of John Cho, and the fact that not many Asians headline a Hollywood thriller. However, once I saw the trailer, I was immediately hooked because of its innovative execution, and I am glad to report that it did not disappoint at all. In fact, this twist in the found footage concept allows us to become more invested in David’s investigation as the way he searches and experiences things on his smart phone and laptop are how all of us experience things now today- from entering search keywords on Google, to editing texts before sending them, and going back to previous searches and not shutting our laptops down yet because of something niggling at the back of our brains. The execution, and how it connected to the story could have failed, so I’m glad that it worked really well, and that it allowed us to actually emotionally connect and be very much invested in David’s plight.
Aside from the movie being innovative, it also tackled some interesting issues that are very relevant. It talks about how social media can be both good and bad, especially due to the fact that we have the power to be more liberated online and how hypocritical we can also be; and it talked about how many approach parenting today, especially with how parents aren’t really sure with how to talk to teenagers or if they do really want to know the real versions of their kids from their teenage years on wards.
The plot did have a lot of interesting twists and turns, and I didn’t see that ending coming. However, I felt that the denouement of the story itself fell a little bit flat, especially with the revelation of what exactly happened. However, this can also be seen as a good thing, as what happened was actually pretty complex in the way that you can’t really point a finger at someone and blame that person or character for everything that happened.
However, despite that, “Searching” was a fun movie that kept me guessing until the last few minutes, and presented us with an interesting and engaging twist on the found footage concept that felt very familiar yet enhanced the way the story was narrated.
Now, you know the drill! From here on out, there will be spoilers!
As mentioned earlier, aside from John Cho, I was drawn to this movie because I wanted to see how the movie’s concept would work, and I’m so glad that it was executed well, allowed us to be more invested with David’s character, go along this harrowing and emotional journey with him, and it enhanced all the emotions riding in it as well.
In the first part of the film, for those who experienced life before Apple Iphones and MAC laptops, it was really nostalgic- from the Windows start up screens to Windows Paint. Because of this, it was really clever how they made us of that to create a montage of the Kim family, leading up to the present day. From there, it became something familair as the webcam on David’s monitor showed us everything that was going on, and as he slowly uncovered Margot’s digital footprint. I thought that we would have a problem once David was no longer actively on the laptop, but I’m glad that they were still able to find a work around for that, especially when the news footage showed up on the screen, and Detective Vick’s taped confession was also shown on screen.
David’s search for his missing daughter allowed him to discover who is daughter truly was, and what she was currently going through. Sometimes, when children get to their teenage and adult years, it seems as if parents are scared to learn what their children are up to, and vice versa, children sometimes feels that their parents will disapprove of their choices and issues, and feel like they can’t talk to them. In David’s and Margot’s case, there was a lack of communication about how the death of the family matriarch, Pam, was still affecting them. David probably didn’t want to add upon Margot’s grief, and Margot thought the same as well, so she turned to her friends online instead. This drives the point home that sometimes, technology allows us to be our real selves to complete strangers, when in fact, we should be at home with being our real selves to actual people, and especially our family members. Aside from this, it also goes to show that active and open communication is always key, no matter what, as shown with his relationship with his daughter; and also, with his relationship with his younger brother.
This movie also shows us how liberated we are on social media, which can be a good and a bad thing, at the same time; and how hypocritical we can also be. Sometimes, we have a tendency to care about a particular topic just because it’s trending, like how uncooperative and unfriendly Margot’s classmates were, only to have them cry and claim that they are best friends when the search for Margot became trending.
Now, while I’m glad that nothing worse happened to her and that she and her father were able to reconcile with each other, it is interesting that there is no one really to point the finger to here, which is maybe why the denouement felt a little bit flat for me. It turned out that Margot had gone to her favorite lake to get high, and while there, Detective Vick’s son, Robert, had gone there to apologize for catfishing her after he disguised himself as a girl after recognizing and getting close to Margot on YouCast, a live streaming service. He had tried to return the money to her, but as she wasn’t in her right mind, she lashed out at him, and one thing led to another and, I guess, in the struggle and in the confusion, he ended up accidentally pushing her off the cliff. What was wrong, though, was the fact that his mother, Detective Vick, fabricated evidence and even convinced someone to kill himself to save her son.
However, I think that what did bother me was the fact that she mentioned that he was different, and had a hard time making friends which leads me to believe, that he might have a disability of some sorts, and might even be a high functioning person with autism; as that echoes my own experiences as well. I had a hard time making friends, and found friends online instead.
Brushing that aside, it also goes to show how powerful and how scary technology and the online world can be.
John Cho’s performance as the distraught father experiencing what could only be a paren’ts worst nightmare was fantastic, and I’m glad that he was the one that they chose to headline this thriller. With the advent of the box office success of “Crazy Rich Asians”, it’s high time that Asians and Asian-Americans are given their time to shine in mainstream film, and this is only the beginning.
Debra Messing gave also gave a solid performance, not only as a dogged detective, but also as a mother who had very few options in front of her.
“Searching” is a movie that must be watched due to its execution and the fact that an Asian-American is headlining a mainstream thriller movie, and as it tackles issues with regards to technology and parenting that speak very much to our times today.
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