CAUTION: This review will attempt to avoid spoilers, but can only avoid so much. Reader beware.
It’s unmistakable how important technology has become in our lives. As I write this, I have multiple browsers open behind this Word Doc, opened to Facebook, Twitter, and my Gmail account. Behind that, I have my work email open on Outlook. Next to me, my phone has multiple conversations that I’m carrying on with my wife as well as my group of friends. Not to mention that, for about 2 hours this morning, my internet was down and I didn’t know what to do with myself (I couldn’t watch TV, because Comcast owns my life and that was also down). Searching is about this level of connectedness and, however cliché, about how these connections can keep ourselves at arm’s length.
At its core, Searching is a found footage horror film, but what this found footage manages to do is bring the subgenre into the modern era, which is one of the major problems with the genre. I believe it was V/H/S 2 that had a sequence that involved a GoPro, a very modern technology for capturing on-the-go video, but the presentation was given to us as if someone had transferred it to a VHS, which is the whole conceit of the series. But the question arises: why would anyone transfer GoPro footage to VHS?
Luckily, there are no questions that come up as to why anything that we see is being captured. Writer-director Aneesh Chaganty is able to pull together all the media that we consume in our daily life and strings together a gripping drama as it unfolds. And if it wasn’t for the last act, this movie may have been my favorite movie of the year. Still, this is a great film and worthy of your time.
The film opens on the desktop screen of a Windows computer, and anyone that came of age in the late 90s and early 2000s will instantly recognize the outdated Start menu and background image that appeared on every PC in homes and school libraries for at least a half-decade. And what we see is our main character Margot grow up before our eyes, and only through the lens of the ever-present technology that grows with her, an idea that shouldn’t come as a shock to an audience watching a later-generational millennial grow. Through this montage, we learn more than we need to know about Margot, David, and Pamela, David’s late wife. We see piano recitals, first days of school, and the slow deterioration of Pamela’s health as she succumbs to lymphoma. I wasn’t expecting to cry in this movie, and then it goes and pulls the fucking first ten minutes of Up on me. And trust me: it’s as effective as that sequence.
From there, the movie checks back in with David and Margot roughly 2 years since Pamela’s passing, and the loss has obviously strained the relationship. As Margot has grown up, she’s walled herself off from her father, as he’s unwittingly done the same, not sure how to talk to his daughter about the death of one of the most important people in each of their lives. One night, Margot never returns from her study group session, leaving three missed calls on David’s phone as he sleeps. As the next day goes on, David becomes increasingly worried and files a missing persons report. While probably a bit unconventional in terms of actual police investigations, David helps the police with their investigation, gaining access to a number of Margot’s online accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Youcast, iMessages, Venmo; the further down the rabbit hole David goes, the less he feels he even knew his daughter, and the more in danger Margot seems to be.
Let’s get this out of the way: found footage is a gimmick, and a film that takes place entirely on a computer screen is just a new incarnation of this gimmick, but gimmicks are not necessarily a bad thing, if done right. And this film does it right, which is more than you can say for similar movies like Unfriended. There are some cheats, here and there, specifically with streaming news sources that tell more than they show, but this film knocks the conceit out of the park. It’s a necessary evil to bring the audience along, but the good in this aspect, like just joining David in the search for the next password or the next text message conversation is so incredibly thrilling, I’m willing to accept the occasional handholding this film does along the way.
As mentioned, there were points in this movie that I questioned to myself whether this film was worthy of receiving a perfect 10 out of 10 when it came to a final rating. At points, I could’ve argued that this was a perfect version of this particular movie, but it unfortunately does not stick the landing quite as well.
Without giving too much away, the ending isn’t “bad per se”, but it’s unearned. Sure, if I go back, I can probably find some hints at the ending that makes me think “Oh yeah, I guess they set it up from the onset.” Still, the ending makes the best parts of the film just feel like a wild goose chase and that’s what’s so disappointing to me. David manages to go deep into his daughter’s personal life and learns more about her in those 24 to 36 hours than he knew in the past two years since his wife’s death and then it just… kind of doesn’t matter, when all is said and done. I’m not sure what would have been a satisfying ending, and I guess, calling this unsatisfying isn’t quite fair, but when an ending makes you rethink scenes you absolutely loved and you start thinking “But what was the point of that, now?”, it’s not doing the film any good.
Searching was damn near a perfect movie, and while it doesn’t quite cross the finish line the same way it starts, it’s still a great little indie thriller with a fresh concept executed very well. John Cho does an incredible amount of heavy lifting here and director Aneesh Chaganty is a name I’ll be keeping an eye out for down the road.
Rating: 8 out of 10