Fresh from a successful attendance at Sundance Festival 2018, Aneesh Chaganty’s newest feature film Searching has been previewing at screenings across the country in the anticipation of a UK release. Winner of the 2018 Alfred P Sloan Prize, the psychological mystery-thriller presents a unique demonstration of the many powers possessed by the behemoth that is the internet in the 21st century, whether the intentions be for good for bad. Addressing a variety of topical themes including loss, depression, insecurity and mental health, the feature combines the deepest elements of family values with the modernistic illustrations of current technological platforms like Facetime, iMessage, social media platforms and news outlets, displaying 102 minutes of suspense-filled mystery through only footage and recordings set on computer screens.
Sound familiar? Viewers may be forgiven for immediately thinking of similarities to Leo Gabriadze’s 2014 horror Unfriended, but what this new movie presents is a story of far greater substance and emotional value. The movie opens with a fleeting desktop adventure through the online memories of the Kim family, starting with the birth of Margot (Michelle La) – daughter of David (John Cho) and Pam (Sara Sohn) – following her first day at school and moving on to a more tragic conclusion that shakes the foundation upon which this strong trio have built themselves. Just as they begin to comfortably look forward to the future, a devastating turn of events sees Margot disappear off the grid, leaving her father to gather traces of his daughter’s digital footprint in a desperate search to find her with police Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing).
A screen-based movie can sometimes prove difficult to make convincing or engaging for the audience – which is perhaps the reason why we haven’t seen the style used more frequently in recent cinema – but this hurdle appears to have been cleared simply by cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron through the inclusion of a series of zoom lenses, varying digital platforms and the tracking of mouse movements – as opposed to the visualisation of a stationary desktop. With the addition of witty dialogue including parenting clichés, lack of social media savviness and moments to tug on the heartstrings, this film provides a strong fundamental base from which the developing plot can experiment into unknown territory. Does this testing justify the means in the end? Well, the narrative becomes a little darker and twisted as it progresses down the electronic trail, with an almighty twist that no one could have called. It is unfortunate that the ending loses slight plausibility in itself, yet Searching remains captivating throughout.
It is the compelling performance of Cho as loving, devoted yet grief-worn David Kim who engrosses the audience with a performance showing the full array of his talents. This critic recalls first seeing the actor reveal his true ability to the world in the American series Flashforward almost a decade ago, and it is clearly apparent with this latest performance that Cho has certainly come a long way since Harold and Kumar, maturing into an on-screen star with a royal artillery of skills to call upon. It is within the character’s desperate anguish in Searching that we find the moral of this feature: the internet is a wonderful tool, but can also pose dangers to those who do not use it appropriately.
Searching is released nationwide on 31st August 2018.
Watch the trailer for Searching here: