For all the people who ever tried (And failed) to make a compelling thriller about the internet, from "Unfriended" to "Megan Is Missing", I have news for you:
Someone finally did it.
"Searching" is quite possibly the first film I've seen that truly treats the internet as the entity it is without any silly exaggerations, fake websites, ignorance or judgement. Instead, this film treats it as a platform to tell a compelling mystery story with an excellent performance by John Cho and a quite honestly revolutionary sense of direction at its center.
"Searching" concerns itself primarily with the character of David Kim, played by John Cho (Of 'Harold & Kumar' fame), who's daughter goes missing suddenly and is only left with a trail of breadcrumbs that exist entirely on the internet. Whether it be social media, text logs or anything in-between, the film becomes a frantic search to find his missing daughter.
The film itself is an odd hybrid of the Found Footage genre and of an actual narrative film. What I mean by this is that we still see close ups, we still hear a musical score, and still see various camera tricks incorporated into the film, but our vantage point is limited only to a screen and what may appear on it. Because of this, the direction expertly resorts to showing many forms of multi-media to paint a story that a feature film could tell. From the film's wide-spanning opening (Which is oddly reminiscent of Pixar's "Up" in more ways than one) to every direction it goes beyond that, the film stays in its proverbial lane and uses its media and its story platform to tell a compelling story within its mean.
This execution, by first-time director Aneesh Chaganty, is done BRILLIANTLY. There is not a single moment where you do not buy what is occurring on-screen when it comes to the way these sites and media function (Aside from a few hiccups that I will get into later), and it truly shows an understanding of both the limits of this scope and of the media they used to tell this story. Crazy as it sounds, it is an incredible accomplishment seen here by Chaganty that the film remained comprehensible, well-directed, and ended up as the first film of its genre to ever incorporate social media properly.
Speaking of which, it is a delight that we do not get any fake websites in this film. What I mean by this is, there is no "sub-in" for Youtube or Facebook or anything of that like. Facebook is Facebook, Youtube is Youtube, Tumblr is Tumblr, etc etc. It is both a treat to those who look for authenticity in this concept that not only did the crew know what they were talking about, but also to see that they trusted audience to expect realism and no substitute. Fake social media sites in film is out, and incorporating the quite real social media sites around us is IN..and I couldn't be happier.
This could perhaps be enough for a downright experimental film to be considered serviceable, but what truly elevates this even further is John Cho's fantastic performance as a father at his wit's end fighting to find his daughter. Though we only get small bursts of the clear talent and commitment he has for this role, by the time the film was over even his own mouse cursor and movements depicted by his searching through the internet had its own injected 'character' to it.
Despite how well the film is executed, a few flaws do hold it back from being a masterpiece by a first-time director. The climax of the film and the conclusion we reach to the mystery itself is a bit fantastical and hard-to-buy for my tastes, though it hardly ruins the entire film structurally. In addition, Michelle La as the daughter character is not especially good in the scenes she is featured in, which was perhaps why the only scenes I never felt entirely invested were the ones where she was front-and-center. Considering this is her first feature film role, that's perhaps simply inexperience coming to the fore, but it still hurts the film when her scenes are sandwich between a fantastic performance by John Cho.
Along with these problems with story and performances, the minuscule details between the lines of the film's internet setting are a tad fuzzy. Namely things regarding the service YouChat and how it is presented, along with the tiniest nitpicks in presentation like the mouse cursor moving so buttery-smoothly it became hard to buy. In addition, my feelings toward the film having a background score are a tad mixed, though I grew to accept it as the film went on. Simply a matter of tastes.
All of that said, "Searching" is a quite masterfully done thriller with an execution that is truly a marvel to behold. Never has this genre of found footage been able to crack the concept of painting a thrilling film through the scope of a computer screen until now. With the internet seemingly 'cracked' by these writers and directors, however, this film ends up a first of its kind and quite the investing ride to take at the theatre.
I highly recommend you see this film and support something so indie and so unique. It's really unlike anything that's in theatres right now~