There could be a few anxious statements to be made while being informed about Aneesh Chaganty’s directorial debut, Searching. One of the most understandable questions most likely being “aren’t we beating a dead horse?”.
Synopsis: After David Kim’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever. (Sony Pictures)
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, and Michelle La
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 102mins
For those who aren’t aware, Searching is a mystery/thriller that follows David Kim (Cho), as local law enforcement and himself attempt to find the location of his missing daughter Margot (La) – here’s the gist, the entire film is captured and told via various computer and phone screens. Unlike the other two “computer screen” films that Bazelevs helped get a decent release, Unfriended, and its respective sequel, Dark Web, this is the first film we’ve seen that takes that already bold experimentation into a new direction.
Unlike the Unfriended films where you nearly end up playing a game of “chicken” with the screen, waiting to see who will be the first to crash and explode in a b-movie cacophony, Chaganty tickles the cinematic funnybone. Instead of familiar stillness, we move along with David’s eyes as he peers into his daughter’s life in a manner that almost feels voyeuristic due to the tone (we zoom in to certain parts of the laptop, we frantically skip through various icons, etc). This tactic does nothing but enhance the immediate and intimidating mystery that continuously laughs in our struggling father’s face. It’s emotional overload on every single front, and Chaganty’s cutthroat script doesn’t hold back in the slightest by descending down a pitch black rabbit hole but doing so tastefully. That’s quite possibly the biggest compliment one could give a thriller; it’s able to captivate its audience while simultaneously not having to resort to trashy ultra-violence that doesn’t work in the narrative.
Columbus was the ladder and this is the astonishing eruption of wonderment in terms of John Cho performances. Last year’s glorious mumblecore favorite is worth mentioning due to Cho’s emotionally meditative muscles being flexed incredibly well there. Here, it appears that he has found access to a part of him that can remain thoughtful while also running straight into the souls of the audience. This is usually par for the course for a piece of filmmaking that the man is involved in, but the way his likability is beginning to blend into the characters he portrays is definitely a career-defining breakthrough in character depth. The rest of the supporting cast is serviceable enough, with no actor attempting to hog the spotlight by being as excessive as possible, thankfully. Everyone working on this is fully aware of the fact that this is a Broadway play for the digital age, which additionally works as a performance piece for Cho. He truly steals the show.
It packs a firm punch to the gut and a not-so-subtle message that rings throughout your heart and soul, “Do we really know our children?” The answer is most likely no or at the very least, not as well as we think we do. It’s a troubling pondering that could lead to health if tamed and utilized in a proper fashion. Chaganty is able to craft a narrative that activates more questions than it has answers for, in the best way possible. Instead of leading to conflicting narrative ideas, he’s able to create a foreign beauty that is hardly discovered in contemporary cinema.
What was so great about Searching, as a fan of cinema, is that it’s living proof that shows you’re able to experiment with an already groundbreaking experimentation that already creates feelings of hyperactive paranoia and questionable reality. This can never be said enough, it’s the most exciting time to be alive and a film lover because what we’re seeing is quite the achievement.