Searching is a movie with a ‘gimmick’, which normally does not bode well. The last movie I can remember with a gimmick was Hardcore Henry, but instead of being shot as a First Person Shooter, Searching is shot completely from the point of view of a computer screen. When we see people, it’s always photographs or video feed. When they talk, it’s either streaming video or messaging. When I saw the trailer, I thought the the setup would get very old, very fast. I also thought “I wonder what happened to his daughter?”
After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.
The strength of Searching isn’t the fact that everything is on a computer. Its core question was so compelling – will this man find his daughter? Will she be alive or dead; will the story have a happy ending or a sad ending? And that kept me glued to the screen for the entire 1 hour, 42 minutes (perfect length) of the film. Searching unfolds so gracefully. The mystery just gets deeper and deeper and we are kept guessing until the very end. It’s a believable situation and it’s a believable ending.
I’m pretty sure the whole ‘on a computer’ thing helped the plot. It definitely set the scene in 2018 and that very much added to the believability of the whole thing. One thing I really liked is that not only do we see what people have typed, we see the things they started to type and thought better of. What an observation – everyone does that. And it really added to the character development. Granted there were times when they had to stretch to get some crucial scenes to fit into the gimmick (how many hidden cameras can you set up before it becomes weird?) but I can forgive that. What was more annoying was the PSA-like implication that if this guy had spent a little more time with his daughter instead of being online all the time, things might have turned out differently. I’m sure that was unintentional, but I the message was there all the same.
Can I talk about how much I liked John Cho? He was absolutely ideal in this, just the perfect semi-distant, socially awkward but well meaning dad. Everything he did was absolutely believable and easy to empathise with. I also liked Joseph Lee as The Brother and Debra Messing was absolutely on point. I loved her in Will and Grace and this character was so different I had a hard time believing it was even her. Debra Messing has acting chops. I’d never heard of Aneesh Chaganty or Sev Ohanian before this, but as far as writing and directing goes, this was really well done.
So is Searching worth watching? Yes, actually. To be fair, the whole on-a-computer gimmick was definitely distracting but after about 15 minutes you don’t even notice it. Trust me on that one – I was absolutely prepared to crucify this film based how distracting the online thing was. And it really did add something. I’m not sure I want to see any more films with the same gimmick, but this one really did well.