Arriving in Australian cinemas off the back of overwhelming word of mouth throughout its American release and accolades at the Sundance Film Festival, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching places itself in local theatres intent on thrilling its unsuspecting audience with a screen-life gimmick that’s far more successful than it has any right to be.
After testing the waters of the screen-life genre – films that take place entirely on computer screens – with 2015’s supernatural horror outing Unfriended (on which he was a producer) and his own directorial effort Profile, which won the Panorama Audience Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, director/producer Timur Bekmambetov has seemingly perfected the formula with this glossy thriller, relying more on stirring emotion and creating tension than opting for cheap scares and genre implausibility.
It’s something of a slow burner with Chaganty taking his time throughout the film’s opening to deliver ample opportunity for us to get to know the family at its core, the Kims. Reeling from the recent death of his wife, loving dad David (John Cho) seems unable to discuss his wife’s passing without swelling with emotion, whilst his formerly chipper daughter Margot (Michelle La) has grown sullen and distant. David’s already concerned about Margot’s state, and when he misses two overnight phone calls and a FaceTime request from her following a late-night study session Margot allegedly attended, his anxiety reaches boiling point when he’s unable to contact her the following day.
Chaganty expertly raises David’s agitation throughout once it’s seemingly confirmed that Margot is missing, at first desperate to cling to any information before succumbing to the notion that she is in fact missing and may never be found. Though he’s practical in his thought process, David soon plays detective and delves into Margot’s social media presence, discovering she was far from the popular student he was led to believe; the film hits home regarding the anxiety many people have over their children’s social media accounts, asking the question of how well do you really know someone?
That being said, Searching never blatantly states the negatives of social media as David’s use potentially helps him find the answers that authorities don’t seem forward in releasing; Debra Messing’s helpful but exasperated detective toes the line between welcoming David’s help and scolding him for his assistance.
At a tight 90 minutes, Searching never threatens to run out of steam, staying consistently taut throughout and benefiting immensely from a wonderfully nuanced performance from Cho. A far more captivating film than it deserves to be, Searching utilizes its limitations beyond their capacities to deliver a genre feature that should appeal to a mass audience.
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. But 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.
Searching (M) is screening in Australian cinemas from 13th September 2018.