A single father must go to extreme lengths to find his daughter, who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
However, there’s one important factor that separates Searching from its tried and true plot: the entire film is presented through various websites and applications found on the father and daughter’s computers.
This gimmick, for lack of a better word, is one that has sprung into the mainstream with the recent Unfriended horror films, but Searching’s use of the medium is far more grounded and representative of how humans actually act online. Where Unfriended was an overexaggerated image of adolescence on the internet and the accompanying dangers (like a bad episode of Black Mirror), Searching makes sense because a parent trying to find information on where their daughter has gone would inevitably turn to the internet and social media to find answers.
Even the way the protagonist, David (John Cho), behaves feels genuine; from looking up definitions of things he’s too old to understand, to writing out an entire ranting paragraph, only to delete it and send a one-word response instead. These minor details make the character all the more believable and, in turn, more relatable.
John Cho’s performance also succeeds in grounding the film in reality; the screenplay undoubtedly gives him a lot to work with, but it’s the emotional impact he brings to so many scenes that make us care about his plight and become invested in the mystery at hand.
That’s not to say that there aren’t parts of Searching that feel like an adult pretending that they know how kids talk these days, but given the film is literally about a middle-aged man attempting to make sense of a teenager’s behaviour, it’s forgivable. These nuanced details in the writing prevent the film from being too gimmicky – there are multiple scenes, such as the opening sequence, that wouldn’t have the same impact were it not for the creative use of the computer element.
Searching is a triumph in filmmaking, not because it has brought something wholly new and unseen to the table, but because it finds the perfect angle to bring legitimacy to a style of film that would otherwise be considered a mere novelty.
In cinemas: September 13, 2018
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing
Directed by: Aneesh Chaganty