The growing trend of shooting films from the perspective of phones has never really had a true champion before. Films like Unfriended and Open Windows have explored that idea, but could never convince me that they deserved to be released in the cinema rather than going straight to Netflix so it can be viewed on a laptop. This is where Searching comes in. Searching is the first film I’ve seen that successfully makes the case to be shown in the cinema, having a cinematic flair that films like Unfriended haven’t had, aided by having a more realistic tone and creates a great, engaging thriller. Now, just to let you know, I saw this through a Cineworld Unlimited advanced screening a month before it’s wide release so consider this a spoiler warning.
The film focuses on David Kim, a man whose wife, Pamela, died a few years ago, who finds out that his daughter, Margot, has gone missing. Initially unable to understand what happened to Margot, David ends up going into her laptop and social media to find out that Margot whilst giving the image of someone with a happy life, was actually incredibly lonely since the death of her mum. As the film goes on, more details come out about Margot, making the fear of Margot being dead all the more profound. Now what works about the film is the focus on the relationship between David and Margot. Even though Margot is not in most of the film, we get a clear understanding from what we see of her social media to understand the strained relationship Margot and David have and how they haven’t been able to talk to each other about the death of Pamela. There’s this tragedy of how they were unable to truly overcome their grief together which helps to make the film so powerful. There’s also some solid pieces of satire in the film about social media and how easy it can be for things to be distorted, from David being blamed for Margot’s disappearance, to people falsely making claims about knowing what happened to Margot for notoriety, to people jumping on the bandwagon of Margot’s disappearance to make themselves look better even when they are doing nothing. At the same time, it also shows the power of social media on a personal level, Margot using Tumblr and live streaming to express herself in a way that she wouldn’t be able to do in real life. There are also darker points about how easy it is to abuse social media, but that would be a spoiler so I won’t go into detail about it here.
The performances are great as well. John Cho as David really shows the fear and concern he has for Margot and the desperation and anger he feels over not being able to do more to help her. A lot of moments in the film are just focused on Cho’s face as he comes to terms with the information he’s discovered, and the subtle changes in facial expression Cho expressions in these scenes say so much more than any dialogue ever could and all the actions David does throughout the film are made believable by Cho’s performance. Debra Messing as Detective Vick, the lead investigator into Margot’s disappearance, is great as well, showing her empathy for David along with concern that he may be making things worse. There are some interesting elements to Messing’s performance later in the film but I won’t spoil them here. We also get great performances from Michelle La as Margot and Joseph Lee as David’s brother Peter, but again, talking more about them would spoil the film.
The technical side of the film is where the film is really impressive though. As I said at the start, it is difficult to make a film shown from a desktop cinematic but this film is able to do that, and I think the main reason it’s able to do that is through it not being in real time. Films like Unfriended and Open Windows are set in real time, meaning that there is no real chance for clever editing tricks or using extra perspectives to give the film a more cinematic feel. With this though, editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick cut between different computers and footage being played on those computers to give the film a wider scope. It never feels like a cheat either, everything we see in the film is possible to be done on a computer or phone screen, which is more than can be said for something like Unfriended. They also known when to focus on videos being played, like the montage at the start of the film and seeing Margot’s livestreams, letting the visuals, music and acting tell the story rather than relying too much on the aesthetic of the film. This is the first of the desktop films to get both what it’s like to be on a computer/smartphone, with all the little quirks like getting passwords and anti-virus software, along with using that style to create something cinematic, using it to create a strong feeling of tension throughout the film,
Overall, Searching was a great surprise. I’d heard some good things about it but not much more, and I left this screening blown away. This makes excellent use of the desktop format to give us a great insight into the characters and crafting an engaging thriller. Sure some of the credibility is slightly lost by the end of the film, but we still get a brilliant, tense thriller that shows just what can be done by filmmakers who truly care about using the desktop view to tell stories rather than using it as a gimmick.
My Rating: 5/5