If you would like to read Ben Scanga’s earlier review of Searching, click here.
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
Screenlife have been a contentious sub-genre as engaging viewers by telling a story using only computer screens isn’t always easy. First we had Unfriended then this year’s Unfriended: Dark Web and now we have Searching, the next Bazelevs film. So what makes this film different? Searching isn’t a horror film but rather a thriller. While this style of storytelling in the Unfriended films (in the first one at least) created a disconnect between the viewer and the characters, this was certainly not the case here. The story here was about a man named David Kim (Cho) whose daughter Margot (La) goes missing under mysterious circumstances. On the case was Detective Vick (Messing).
Now why is this story a Screenlife film, well the reason seems pretty obvious at this point. We live in a technological world and so did Kim and his daughter. In order to find any leads into Margot’s disappearance, he would need to search through her daughter’s laptop to access her iPhone and all her social media accounts. Kim’s arc over the course of the film was the best part of it as he had to try to hold it all together despite the uncertainty with his daughter. He believed that he knew his daughter since he considered them to be close after the death of his wife but this became less and less the case as the film went on and he learned the kind of person she really was. It was just easy to relate with his frustrations with both himself and with everyone else as the mystery unfolded.
The use of Screenlife here wasn’t just a gimmick and were simply a window into these characters’ lives thus adding a further level of intimacy and emotional engagement with Kim and the story. There was plenty of emotion on display on screen, however, Screenlife went even further as character actions off screen also spoke volumes. The emotional engagement the film creates made the mystery behind Margot’s disappearance very tense and suspenseful to watch as anything could have happened to her. We only ever knew what Kim knows. The story does a great job at keeping us on the edge of our seats along with Kim as he went on a rollercoaster of a journey through good times and bad, doing all he can do to find his daughter while using his memories of his daughter to keep him going. The film adds to that suspense thanks to a score that creates an even bigger sense of dread.
Since the story is told from Kim’s point of the view and because the use of Screenlife magnifies him (and others) even more, suffice it to say that the film would not have worked nearly as well if not for Cho and his performance as Kim. In his best role yet, Cho carries the film (he was in most of it) and is compelling to watch throughout, giving a powerhouse performance as a parent put through the ringer both physically and emotionally. The role allowed him to show considerable range unlike anything he’s ever done before and he was always believable. Messing was great as Vick while working as a counterbalance to Cho’s Kim. La was fine in what little screen time she had but Margot was more of a plot device than a character.
Overall, this was an amazing and original thriller, using Screenlife in a non-gimmicky way to create a more immersive, emotionally engaging, and very tense story about family and grief thanks to some great writing and editing, an amazing score, and an equally amazing and career-best performance from John Cho.