Aneesh Chaganty’s storytelling presentation in Searching may look like a gimmick on the surface, but as our technologies have evolved it is up to the storytellers to find new innovative ways to keep audiences in their seats. That’s because Searching is told through a technological perspective, where the audience sees the story being told through computer screens and news footage. But what may look silly at first, the film is actually a chilling thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end.
In Searching, David Kim (John Cho) is a single father to his sixteen-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La). David likes to keep tabs on her father like any devoted father would do, but when she fails to check in with him and does not show up to a friend’s camping trip, he suspects the worst. So, after making a call to the proper authorities, he is connected with Detective Vick (Debra Messing), who offers to lead the investigation, which goes nowhere. Desperate, David breaks into his daughter’s computer in hopes of finding clues about her whereabouts.
Searching may feel like a by-the-numbers thriller, but it is Changanty’s direction that makes the film a true modern-day Hitchcockian thriller. He has us caring about the characters from the very beginning. He capturing their emotions through different technological moments. And it’s there that we get to see characters in a whole new light. Sometimes it may be vulnerable and others we get to see irrational decisions be made which leads to devastating consequences.
It is in that search that we discover a few things. One, the lengths to which a father would go to find his missing daughter. Although, he may not like what he’s looking for. The lives that these characters keep in public and on the internet provides some interesting twist and turns that will keep people guessing throughout the film. The second thing is that the film keeps itself grounded by providing emotionally raw moments that would allow the audience to connect with these characters.
Chaganty’s decision to open with David and Pam (Sara Sohn) opening their family computer for the first time has us sympathizing with this family from the get-go. There is genuine excitement in their eyes as they take a profile photo and start using all of the tools of Windows XP. Even the startup tone is familiar will resonate with us. That kind of familiarity will help the audience get acquainted with these characters on a more personal level.
And as the technology develops, we see these characters develop as well. Soon, social media and streaming videos become a part of the story. We see the digital footprint that Margot has left behind, which proves to be an essential clue that could lead to her whereabouts. But it also sheds some light on how that same technology is foreign to him. He doesn’t know much about Margot’s activity on the internet or whom she was speaking to on her live-streams, which shows how distant the two have become without his knowing.
And in order to believe a father’s desperation, Searching hinges on Cho’s performance. The film sees him go through a wide range of emotions, both on and off screen. On screen, we get to see his facial expressions and hear his flux of tones, on multiple computer screens either talking to Detective Vick or seeing him at his worst moments captured on a Facebook video post. Off-screen, we can see him texting at an aggressive pace, before pausing to think about hitting send.
But the surprising thing about Searching is its editing and pacing. Though it all takes place on a computer screen and multiple computer windows, the film’s sense of urgency will keep audiences glued to their seats. We can see how frustrated David becomes when the investigation goes nowhere. As a result, we become more invested with David and hope for the best or that he can get some sense of closure. But there are times where that kind of storytelling can wear thin.
Luckily, Searching keeps us engaged with David’s search as it peppers clues in Margot’s e-mails, Instagram photos, Facebook updates, and Tumblr posts.
Searching also has a unique perspective. It is one of the first mainstream thrillers to have an Asian American lead. Yet, it doesn’t make an overtly political statement about it. It just happens to feature an Asian father in an unlikely situation, but one that audiences would probably see on the news. This speaks to the world that we live in today as missing person’s cases could happen to anyone.
Searching’s storytelling may not look like it should work, but Chaganty and his team make it work. Its pacing and performances keep audiences glued and the clues that are hiding in plain sight will keep them engaged. While the storytelling can become thin for a brief moment, the film always maintains a high level of drama, not once letting up or giving slack. And much of its strength comes from Cho and Messing’s performance. And because of that, it may end up becoming one of the best films of the summer. Even the year.
Searching is Rated PG 13 and is in theaters August 24!