Saturday 17 July 2021

Movie Review: Searching (2018)

A missing person suspense drama, Searching reveals its story through screens within screens, building tension within the reality of a society running on microchips.

All events are viewed through saved or streaming video files, mostly on the home computer of the Kim family, used by dad David (John Cho), mom Pam (Sara Sohn) and their daughter Margot (Michelle La). Pam dies from cancer around the time Margot enters high school. Dad and daughter are immersed in grief and drift apart. David's brother Peter (Joseph Lee) lives nearby and is the only other family member they are in touch with.

One day Margot is late to return home from school after attending a study group the previous night. David attempts to track her down by contacting her friends, but eventually reports her as missing. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), a missing persons specialist, jumps onto the case and starts to investigate. David eventually breaks into Margot's laptop and discovers the many secrets she had been keeping from him. Father and detective work together to piece together Margot's story, with many surprises in store.

Enjoying the playfulness of the computer screen sub-genre, Searching combines a clever format with an intriguing-enough case of a missing teenager. Co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov and directed and co-written by Aneesh Chaganty, the film reveals only what David knows and when he knows it, his world shrinking into an increasingly agitated hunt for clues through his daughter's digital world.

Behind the search for Margot is astute commentary on lives now entirely lived, recorded and saved online, one byte leading to another. David traces his daughter's activities on web sites he never knew existed, interacting with "friends" he did not know she had, uncovering numerous contacts, photos and files, all potentially containing critical clues but most just comprising a heap of humdrum digital debris.

Sly humour enlivens the search, the online world's best and worst tendencies to adopt a cause, cash-in, then turn sour playing across David's screens as he tries to cut through the clutter, connect the pixels, and get to the truth. And despite every click creating a record, Margot's anxieties remain hidden from her father until he goes looking. The availability of limitless connectivity is distinct and separate from improving human interaction, and instead provides a cheap refuge from the necessary process of grieving.

The format limits the mystery's scope, and with few defined characters Chaganty's greatest challenge was always going to be finding a satisfactory resolution to the riddle of Margot's disappearance. The chosen path is merely fair, and still requires the significant involvement of a barely sketched-in tertiary presence.

But Searching remains a remarkably absorbing experience, a fly-in-the-machine view of every parent's worst nightmare.

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