Searching, co-written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty, takes a cinematic format that up until this point has been poorly done and instead delivers an extremely compelling, consciously gripping story that I enjoyed every second of getting to be a part of. Does the film completely nail it? No, and I’ll touch upon that, but there’s a very well-made film in Searching and I’m eager to talk about it, so let’s get to it.
Margot Kim – played by Michelle La – has gone missing and her father, David Kim – played by John Cho – hopes breaking into her laptop will reveal some much-needed clues as to where she might be. A web of mysteries will slowly unfold and it all happens from the digitised life of Margot.
I’ve seen quite a few films at this point that have approached the telling of their story by having it all happen on a person’s computer screen – it’s mostly been horror films I have seen (poorly) do it. The problem that almost immediately arises with all these films is that they establish that they’re set entirely from the perspective of a computer screen and then immediately break the rules they’ve established and soon just ignore or poorly handle the format they’ve chosen. It also doesn’t help that purely from a story telling aspect these films are usually really bad and do great injustices to the genre of horror.
So when I first saw the trailer for Searching I wrote it off as another gimmicky film that would offer very little that would make it worth me going to watch it. I’ll admit that it’s only because two people close to me saw the film and insisted I see it, that I found myself sitting in the cinema watching it, and I’m very glad they did.
I’m glad (surprised) to say that the only point in which I saw the film break the rules of its format was when it would play dramatic, tension inducing music over intense scenes, yet there be no explanation for where the music was coming from. Other than that misstep, Searching is a film that goes above and beyond to make sure it stays within the parameters it sets for itself.
There was clearly a lot of time that went into making sure the experience of navigating various computers was authentic. There are a host of little details, that if you’re looking out for them, will surely get a knowing smile from you. There was also effort put into making sure that the controlling and handing of the computers was genuine. We all know the little tricks for navigating through the various layers of our computers, yet often in films they don’t pay attention to those little details. They’ll have characters controlling computers in nonsensical ways, or they’ll have operating systems that are clearly fictional. It all plays a part in pulling you out of the experience.
That’s never a problem in Searching. From the very beginning when the dial-up tone sounded and then throughout, I was weirdly invested and enthralled my watching a man navigate a selection of computers in a way that was believable and never nagged at my techy side. There were little touches that made it authentic feeling; spelling mistakes, embarrassing usernames, how sites looked and loaded. It seems like a weird thing to gripe about with films, but those little inconsistencies bother me, and so for Searching to get it so right was a welcome change.
But the most surprising thing for me when it came to Searching, was just how compelling it was to watch a mystery unfold on someone’s computer screen. I think a massive contributing factor to why it was so compelling and so engaging was that in 2018 the amount of personal data and information that someone has on their computer is unlimited. As David (John Cho) slowly unlocked more areas of his daughter’s laptop and we began to see deeper into who she really was as a person (which also fed into the mystery of her disappearance) I became all the more invested in seeing what else may lie on Margot’s Laptop.
People store everything and anything on their computers, phones, etc. They know more about us than our friends do. And so, it turns out that it’s a very effective storytelling tool. Simply through what Margot posted online, I was able to build a clearer more defined picture in my head of who Margot was, despite the film never actually spending any significant time with her (due to her being missing). And beyond that, it went onto give me a better understanding of who David was as he slowly learned more about who his daughter truly was (but I’ll circle back to the characterisation of David in a moment, as it’s something I need to talk more about).
With Searching, I feel there were a lot of elements that needed to work both on their own and together with the other ones around them, and one of those elements that really needed to hold its own while also being a team player was its mystery plot. In a film like this, if the mystery isn’t interesting – if you aren’t’ invested in what’s happening – then it’s going to be a very long 102-minutes.
As I said before, it is surprisingly compelling to watch the mystery of Margot’s disappearance unfold from the perspective of some computer screens. What I think makes it so compelling; what had me so invested was that having it unfold in the way it did allowed me to take part and feel like I to was able to notice clues, have theories of my own and come to conclusions as to who may be involved or what might have happened.
Throughout Searching, there are plenty of details that you yourself can notice. You can put pieces of the puzzle together and you can figure out what happened well before the film gets to it. That was the case for me. I noticed some integral information that actually saw me figuring out what happened long before the film got there. It didn’t hide that information from me, it put it right there in front of me (and the entire audience) to notice it and to run with it.
There was never a point where the film pulled out a clue from nowhere that completely altered the proceedings of the mystery. I’d say my only gripe in this area is that there were one-or-two clues that the film very overtly pushed upon me. It meant that later on when they came to the surface for the main character, the surprise was lost on me. But as whole, the mystery in Searching and the handling of it was very well done. Up until the very end, I was sitting there eagerly waiting to find out if my suspicions were right. My attention never wavered; I couldn’t allow it to. A lapse in concentration for just a moment could see me missing some integral information. Beyond being invested and tense with worry as to what the fate of Margot might be, I also had genuine fun playing detective.
And holding everything together and guiding it forward is an unwaveringly strong performance from John Cho. His vulnerability as a frightened father is something that draws you in. From a basic human level, you of course want to know Margot’s alright. But that want is made all the more intense because of the desperation and panic that fuels David Kim.
It’s a performance by Cho that deserves a lot of respect. He carries much of the difficult weight of this film and never once falters. I only wish the character of David was given a little more depth. The focus on the mystery and our exploration of Margot as a person means the finer details of who David is are lost within everything else the film is juggling. It’s a shame because the brilliant performance by Cho would have been even better had his character been given a little bit more characterisation.
Searching was not a film I was expecting to like. As you already know from me mentioning it earlier: it was a film I didn’t even intend to see. But I am so glad I did. My time and my experience with Searching was one of the most rewarding in some time. I like when a film can pull you in and make you feel like a contributing factor in the story. This is one of those films and one of those experiences that quickly takes a hold of your intrigue and has you caring and invested throughout.
I definitely recommend Searching. I can’t believe this film was as effective as it was. I can’t believe it took a cinematic format I thought to be impossible to make interesting and deliver something so engaging, yet here we are. I hope you have as enjoyable a time with Searching as I did! It’s one I can’t see you regretting seeing.
I’d love to know what your thoughts on both Searching and my review of are, so please feel free to leave any thoughts, opinions or feedback you may have, in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read here, may I suggest following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it might help me to grow my little blog into something more. Anyway, I’ll bring things to a close now by offering you my sincere thanks. Thank you so much for taking some of your time and dedicating it towards reading my review, I appreciate it so much! Have a wonderful day!