Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Premise: A father (John Cho) searches for his missing teenage daughter (Michelle La) by breaking into her laptop and social media accounts.
What Works: Searching is a skillfully told mystery. The filmmakers do a great job of keeping us involved. The narrative has plenty of twists and turns and the mystery is impenetrable in a way that is generally smart. The picture uses sound especially well. The filmmakers know where to place music and sounds effects and when to let silence create a creepy atmosphere. Searching is especially novel in its conception. Like the 2014 horror picture Unfriended, Searching mostly consists of screen activity. This film edits together material from a variety of sources including social media feeds and online news reports and security camera footage. Searching is a little more polished than Unfriended. This is a more ambitious kind of found footage movie and it is creative about the use of different media but also different operating systems. Searching opens with a montage tracking the daughter’s life from a little girl through her teenage years with her mother dying of illness in between. It’s skillfully edited together and uses the screen design of 2000s era operating systems. In the same way that the use of older music can place a story in a specific period, the filmmakers of Searching use older technology to provide a sense of time and even evoke a feeling of nostalgia. When the teenage daughter goes missing, her father searches for clues by getting into her laptop and social media accounts. The film is generally smart about the search as the father works backward to reset her passwords and access her accounts and contact her friends. Searching deals with the generational differences quite well. The father is no Luddite. He has a grasp of technology but there is a difference between his understanding of it and the way his daughter and her classmates do. That difference puts the father in a sympathetic position and the filmmakers use it to deepen the mystery. Searching is a missing child story told very well. That alone makes it compelling but the technological angle highlights the alienation between parents and their teenage kids. As the father digs into his daughter’s online life he realizes just how little he knew about her. That makes the possibility of losing her even more agonizing and adds an additional layer to the film’s mystery.
What Doesn’t: Searching goes off in some silly directions in its final stretch. In an effort to keep up the mystery, the filmmakers include some unlikely coincidences and other unsatisfying narrative twists. The truth about the daughter’s fate is all a bit underwhelming. It’s a weak and contrived conclusion to what is otherwise a genuinely gripping story.
Bottom Line: Searching is a well-made mystery. Despite its weak ending, the movie will keep viewers on the edge of their seats throughout and it uses contemporary technology in a way that is more than a gimmick.
Episode: #715 (September 9, 2018)