Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty
Written by: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La
Runtime: 101 min
After David Kim (John Cho)'s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened, and a detective is assigned to the case. However, 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter's laptop.
In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace his daughter's digital footprints before she disappears forever.
I only watched a few clips from Searching at the theater while waiting for another film to start, but never fully paid attention to its trailer (after all, I try to avoid those marketing scams every day). From what I had seen, I instantly thought that it was going to flop. An unknown director, an "ok" cast and a seemingly straightforward mystery which I guessed it was not going to be that big of a riddle. Furthermore, it was filmed entirely through a laptop or phone camera's perspective.
This movie wasn't on my watchlist, but after hearing all the buzz and seeing such great reviews, I decided to give it a shot and OH MY GOD ... Never judge a book by its cover, this is one of the best films I've seen this year! Unbelievable work from debutant Aneesh Chaganty who is able to capture the movie's essence mostly through a webcam. A WEBCAM! Do you have any idea how hard it is to produce a captivating film when all of it is seen through a laptop or a phone?!
By far, the most surprising movie of 2018. Aneesh committed himself to his craft and delivered a brilliant mystery, filled with twists and turns. Just think about the premise for a minute: a daughter goes missing. The first question that comes to mind is "how?" On one end of the stick, we have the "she ran away," and on the other, we have "she was kidnapped or killed." Between those two extremes, Annesh and Sev Ohanian go through every single possibility and sub-possibility.
The following question probably is "who?" Once again, we have the "she did it all herself" but we also have the most common outcomes: "family did it" or "complete stranger got to her." The writers go through each one, and the mystery never seems to be closer to being solved. I love how I can divide the film into several subplots, where each one corresponds to a potential answer to some of the questions. David Kim investigates each clue with the help of Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), and both keep eliminating event after event, going through subplot after subplot.
This is what a mystery should be. Very rarely we, as the audience, are one step ahead of the characters. If a specific end is discarded, David focuses his attention on another, as we would do. Aneesh cleverly plays with the audience's overall knowledge of generic mysteries, tricking us several times into thinking that we solved it when truthfully we are not even close. When what truly happened is displayed, everything makes sense. There are not any plot holes or questionable motivations. Everything that occurred, no matter how insignificant, has a reason behind it.
There's a sense of uniqueness that no other movie ever accomplished with this method of filming. Definitely, the aspect I love the most about Aneesh's craft is how well he shows everything on the laptop. Without a single word or dialogue, he is able to give a backstory to our protagonist's family by merely showing pictures and videos. Even by just moving the mouse pointer over a file or searching for a word on the Internet, the character development in this film is outstanding and incredibly fresh.
Most of what helps move the plot forward is through something we see. Not hear, not lazily exposed by a character, but either through a simple message or a notification from an antivirus program. Every ounce of story's detail is remarkably exhibited through so many different computer's features that we never thought it was possible to tell such an interesting story like this. Searching deserves tons of praises for its jaw-dropping storytelling method, and Aneesh should receive some awards for his terrific work.
One final compliment to Aneesh's screenplay. I was scared that the fact that this movie is from Sony that I would witness tons of product placement. Fortunately, Aneesh is smart enough to avoid being on-the-nose or slightly obvious when giving a certain product its marketing. There's never a feeling of being inside a big commercial for Apple, Microsoft or whatever. Yes, there's Google Chrome, Facetime and other apps we know, but not even for a second the focus changes. The features are there to provide a modern and realistic vibe to a mysterious story and never to advertise themselves.
The tone and pacing are beautifully handled. While you might be worried that the camera's perspective may get a bit tiresome, the fact that the film moves quickly will at least attenuate your concern. I was visually delighted by what I was witnessing, but I understand if it gets too much for some people to manage. Tonally, there's never a misstep. Aneesh keeps the dramatic vein pumping, and the mystery is always delivering new hints and puzzles to solve.
Cast-wise, John Cho is emotionally amazing. From the suspenseful expressions looking for some clue on a laptop to the tension and emotion that he brought to so many scenes, he elevates the screenplay and his character to a superior level. So, story-wise and technically speaking, this movie is almost flawless ... Almost. I genuinely thought of giving Searching an A+, but my stupid brain has two nitpicks that I can't just ignore.
One is related to the mystery itself. I wrote above that rarely the audience is in front of the characters. Well, there is a plot point that is kind of obvious, but it takes both David and the cops too much time to realize that they have a pretty explicit clue of where Margot might be. I know that they would get there and that they had some other hints to follow, but it still feels doubtful that they wouldn't start right off with that.
The other nitpick has to do with Aneesh's commitment to the film's perspective. I do praise and congratulate him for filming such a captivating story through this wonderful method. However, since everything we see is through a camera, there are a couple of moments that feel forced, like leaving a laptop's lid open when 95% of the times people close it or leaving a window opened with a stream of a particular location where the characters are going to be. I hate myself for these nitpicky details, but I really want to save my A+ for the right movie(s).
All in all, Searching is one hell of a surprise! Undoubtedly, one of the best films of 2018 and from a first-time director, Aneesh Chaganty! A tremendously unique style of filming elevates an almost seamlessly written mystery, containing constant twists and puzzling clues that leave the audience captivated throughout the entire runtime. Filled with contemporary details and a mind-blowing use of a simple mouse pointer to develop both story and characters. I don't have enough words to describe how amazing this movie is. Go see it now, and you won't be disappointed!