Released: 13th September
Seen: 10th September (Advance Screening)
It’s pretty safe to say that we live our lives online. We might like to think that our lives aren’t completely tethered to the device that you happen to be reading this review on but let’s be real, everything about us is online. With enough time and a willingness to do the research, you could use someone’s online presence in order to find out everything about them. Think about how fast the internet will spot a racist in a video online and find their name, their employer and the place they die their hair, that’s how powerful the internet is. You could use it to find absolutely anything on absolutely anyone. We live our lives with a device in our pockets that tracks our every move, there’s no break from it all. So, if we’re going to be constantly keeping track of our lives then it only makes sense to ponder what would a father uncover if he looked into his daughter’s digital life in a moment of crisis. That’s exactly what this movie does.
Searching focusses its story on David Kim (Played by John Cho), a widowed father who is trying to handle having a daughter who is growing ever more distant, only coming home occasionally to eat. One day, David’s daughter, Margot (Played by Michelle La) doesn’t come home and he begins to worry, trying to facetime her and calling any friend’s number he can find until he eventually calls the police and files a missing person’s case that’s assigned to Detective Rosemary Vick (Played by Debra Messing). The case leads to a lot of revelations about just how much of Margot’s life David has missed, about how much he doesn’t know about his own child. Everything David thought he knew about his child, his brother (Played by Joseph Lee), about people in general… destroyed with a click of a mouse.
This kind of idea has, admittedly, been touched on before. Films like Look (By Adam Rifkin, go watch it!) examined what a bevy of surveillance systems might capture and used that as a visual storytelling device while films like Unfriended tried to do the whole “Film that takes place on a desktop” thing (Albeit poorly). Searching takes a slightly different method than the other two did… Searching remembers that it’s a commercially released film in 2018 and, therefore, it can move the damn camera occasionally to give us vital pieces of information instead of expecting the audience to scan every frame for whatever is meant to make us feel something. The brilliance of Searching is that it puts you right in David’s head, every nervous motion of a mouse, every sentence typed and then deleted, we see it all just like he would see it. The editing on this film is doing so much heavy lifting that they had better be putting themselves forward for an Oscar because without the editing, who knows how this would’ve gone. The tension building on this film is almost completely reliant on the brilliant way it’s being shown, the camera going between the typing bar on a messenger app and over to Google makes you feel the tension building as a location is typed and you feel the fear of the parent seeping through the search results.
It also helps a lot that John Cho is delivering the performance of his life. Harold is gone, bye bye Sulu, John Cho just gave the performance that will define his career from now on and it’s absolutely brilliant. He puts it all out there, he shows his heart and his fears and every time there’s a potential bit of awful news, you can hear in his voice how much it breaks him. It can’t be easy to give a performance like this with, basically, a webcam and some darkened lighting but every little flicker of John’s eyes delivers emotion and makes you want him to find his daughter. Even if this wasn’t a uniquely important role (Due to this being the first time an Asian American has been the lead in a Hollywood Thriller, why did THAT take so long?) it’s still one of the greatest performances I’ve seen this year. You’re a long way from being the guy who said “MILF” in American Pie and god damn am I happy to see it.
You know what else I’m happy to see? Debra Messing showing the world what an incredible dramatic actress she is. It’s safe to say that most people know Debra from her work as Grace in Will & Grace, it’s certainly the point of reference that I have for her as an actress. She’s always been a performer I enjoyed, but seeing her here made me respect her so much more because she brings it. She bounces off John’s performance like nothing else, bringing a kindness to her authoritarian character. You can tell how bad she wants to solve the case and when she gives a pretty powerful monologue about something that happened in her family, it’s engrossing and brilliantly delivered with a killer end line that lightens the mood just a little before the story ramps up into high gear. Her performance is spellbinding in ways that one cannot describe in mere text.
The plot of this movie is full of great twists and turns, just when you think you have everything sorted out there’s another link to click on with another key piece of evidence. It’s a brilliant thrill ride that’ll keep you on your toes. Most importantly for this kind of movie, it never feels like it’s cheating the audience with a random plot twist. Every single twist in this film makes complete sense in the narrative, they catch you off guard but they work wonderfully. Even the final moments of the film could be pieced together if one tried to solve the mystery, the clues are laid out in such a way that it all makes sense when they do the big reveal of what happened, making this a satisfying thriller that crescendos perfectly into a climax that’ll knock you back in your seat.
When I first heard about this film, I’ll admit to being sceptical. I believed that a film set on a computer would be cheesy and be the kind of thing that might only work on Netflix. Searching proved me wrong. Searching not only justified the need to be on the big screen with its brilliant visual storytelling but it delivered some of the best performances of the year, helped by one of the best scripts of the year. Could I nitpick things like “That’s not what a Tumblr URL looks like” or “No way in hell would 50 videos upload in 5 seconds?” Sure, I’m sure someone will get a copy of this and *Ding* every tiny pointless thing they can but sometimes when a movie is this good, it’s allowed to have those tiny imperfections. If you’re searching for a great and original thriller, I think we found it.