Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Starring John Cho, Debra Messing
We live in a world where everything happens on a screen of some sort. Heck, even as I’m writing this review, I’m paying attention to the news on my smart phone. We’re more interconnected to one another than just the words that comprise my review of Aneesh Chaganty’s “Searching,” which expanded this weekend after a strong limited debut.
In what is sure to be one of the more unique mainstream releases of 2018, “Searching” was shot entirely using a computer screen. John Cho plays David Kim, a father of one. He is adept at using the technology in front of him, being able to communicate with family members and conducting general life events.
His daughter, Margot (Michelle La) is a typical high schooler – she uses the internet to communicate with her dad, a point the story makes is that even a father can chastise his child and the words on the screen still have that “unwavering parental finger wagging” that I would get as a kid and in person; it’s that powerful.
When Margot goes missing, David reacts like any parent would: “where is my child?!” But it takes time for him to come to that ultimate conclusion.
At some point he involves the police and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is brought on. This is where the script by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian gets even better, because you think you know your child and you realize you don’t leading David to frantically dig into his daughter’s past to find clues about what’s become of her.
The reason why this tried and true story works as well as it does is because the audience is following the clues along with David. You can feel his pain and anguish when a clue doesn’t yield the results you’d expect, or a well-placed camera catches an outburst.
Cho is sublime as a desperate father. He has to adapt as he scours the internet and the character grows as a result of this situation. Messing is direct, even blunt in some instances as she must be. As the case unfolds, it was interesting to see, not only their conversations, but also the visual cues carrying the story towards its rather shocking conclusion.
Web cameras play a huge role in some aspects of this story and cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron needs to be acknowledged for his inventiveness. There’s a scene about a third of the way through the film where David confronts his brother, Peter (Joseph Lee). Using multiple camera angles, Baron composes the conversation and the result and with multiple vantage points, an energy is created that makes this particular scene the most relatable to audiences.
I had an opportunity to speak with the film’s producer, Timur Bekmambetov at South by Southwest earlier this year in relation to another movie where he mentioned that, through his production company Bazlevs, they were going to continue to explore this style of filmmaking.
“Searching” is the modern equivalent to watching the now-infamous O.J. Simpson Bronco chase down the 405 in 1994: we are seeing life unfold in real-time. It is harrowing, it is funny, it is sad, it is messy, but it is genuine and it is powerful.
I for one will be first on line this weekend to catch “Searching” again and I look forward to what is in store for Aneesh Chaganty.
3.5 out of 4