Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Review: Searching

Imagine a film in which the audience never leaves the computer screen, yet they still experience a fully emotional, tense, engaging thrill ride of mystery and intrigue.  Google employee Aneesh Changaty had the vision for this type of film and decided to quit his job to pursue it.  Directed by Changaty (in his first-time feature film effort) and starring John Cho and Debra Messing, Searching is a movie that focuses on the family dynamics of an asian-American Father, Mother and 17-year-old Daughter who disappears in a San Jose neighborhood.

The entirety of Searching takes place on a series of computer screens.  All communication between the main characters happens through phone calls, video calls, emails, blog posts, etc...  The opening sequence of the film highlights the first 17 years in the life of Margot Kim (Michelle La) through a montage similar to the movie Up where we watch life, death and key events in the lives of this family unfold through a series of Youtube videos, emails, and social network posts.  It cleverly starts with the parents creating a new Windows XP account for their daughter.  As a true technophile, I really enjoyed the accuracy of the versioning of software used in the movie from Windows to Mac OS to Chrome as a browser.  Everything seemed authentic and lived-in, probably as a by-product of Changaty's tenure at Google.

The main plot of this movie is a straight missing child whodunit as we see David Kim (John Cho) interact with Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) as they try to solve the mystery of Margot's disappearance.  Changaty interweaves texts, FaceTimes and internet searches with live streaming video of the investigation and law enforcement efforts to find Margot.  I won't get into any minute details as it really is best to go into this film in the dark about the events of what happens to Margot.

Cho and Messing are really solid in the lead roles, playing off each other and grounding the movie in accurate realism.  There isn't any moment in this film where I felt it was over the top or hokey at all.  Everything feels natural in the relationships between Margot, her Dad and her friends.  The whole film feels ultra-real which helps ramp up the tension I felt throughout.

This movie is truly a unique look at how modern-day technology impacts our daily lives.  Changaty does such a good job.  I thoroughly enjoyed this film and it would have made my yearly top-5 if it wasn't for a somewhat muddled twist towards the end.  I felt tense throughout the film and bought into the well crafted story.  I recommend this film to both parents and teenagers alike.  It really does shine the light on parent-child communication and the need for parents to get to know their children better even as they go through the awkward teenage years.  4.5 out of 5 JRs for Searching, a technical achievement by Changaty which I'm sure will lead to bigger cinematic opportunities for the 27-year-old in the future.

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