Film Review – Searching (2018)

The internet, and the realm of computers, phones, pads and countless other technological advances, has changed the world forever. If you just look down the corridor of your train/tube/bus on the way to work, most if not all of those people will have one of these devices in their hands. Their impact on all corners of the globe has been vast, with the face of cinema changing with it: debates rage about digital v film, but with some movies being filmed on iPhones (Sean Baker’s Tangerine or Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane are just two, not counting the fictitious one in Forgetting Sarah Marshall “As if a phone has an agenda”), it’s an advance that is impossible to ignore.

Indeed, there have even been films shot on computers – Unfriended was perhaps the biggest example thus far – but where that film was set around the social media aspects, what about an entire film taking place almost in real time only everything is done through the spectrum of your laptop? Well, welcome to Searching, a film that may seem like a gimmick too far but in truth is actually a pretty impressive little thriller. John Cho stars as David Kim, a widower who is balancing work with raising his teenager daughter Margot (Michelle La). The two seem to have a good relationship but suddenly Margot goes missing, and the secrets to her disappearance, however startling, may lie in her computer.

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, Searching may seem on the surface to be a one-trick pony, putting all its chips on the computer/laptop/phone conceit. Actually, it has much more under the surface about how our relationship with all of these technological advances have changed as they have changed. Our culture is, as The Matrix showed us in an albeit slightly more grotesque and sinister way, plugged in 24/7 to the World Wide Web: we yearn to share experiences with strangers, what we have done, what we are going to do, and, for some, filling the blanks in our lives that aren’t being filled: compassion, friendship, acceptance and even love.

Everything is done on a screen now, some the size of a watch, but with such an expansive highway (“The future is now”!”) there lie dark corners and Chaganty and screenwriting partner Sev Ohanian delve deep into the realms of the online world and just how rewarding and dangerous it can be. The all-on-screen concept takes a little time to get used to on the big-screen (strange as we look at similar things on our little ones so often) but once it settles in, and Cho’s brilliant central performance takes hold, there’s much to enjoy and to take heed of.

What lets the film down, however, is its thriller aspects which start intriguingly enough but it soon becomes strained, relying heavily on twists and turns that are quite ludicrous and unnecessary, almost tailored to fit the “fake news” narrative that controls the media these days. Maybe that’s the point, but as barmy as real-life can be sometimes, it steps a little too far into fantasy for its own good at times.

As a concept and in its execution, Searching does a miraculous job of keeping its story exciting and thrilling whilst delving deep into the world of technology. But where it could have benefited from keeping its disappearance storyline a little sharper and more believable, it descends into silliness that almost does a CTL-ALT-DEL on the whole endeavour.

Scott J.Davis | [rating=3]

Drama, Mystery | USA, 2018 | 15 | 31st August 2018 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing | Dir.Aneesh Chaganty | John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La