The key to successfully pulling off a flashy film technique is to not make it seem like a gimmick.
That 3D spear thrown at you from the big screen should make a point, not just make you jump out of your seat. The one loooong dramatic take? It should be warranted, not deployed as a crutch for a bored filmmaker.
“Searching,” the dynamite feature debut from former San Jose resident Aneesh Chaganty, takes an even bigger risk. The Hitchcockian thriller is framed entirely on electronic screens — laptops, cell phones, even security cameras. That this ploy works so seamlessly and never grows tiresome is a credit to the inspired storytelling and tech savviness of the filmmakers and writers. They never make it seem forced. The result is one of the best, most innovative thrillers of 2018 so far.
The plot is simple. A desperate San Jose father David Kim (John Cho) jumps into the search for his missing 16-year-old daughter Margot (Michelle La), who vanished after supposedly studying with friends. He hacks into her Instagram, Facebook and iPhone accounts to sort out clues. While scouring the real and false leads, he discovers more about her than he ever knew. And everything we see is on the kind of screen that is visualizing David’s frantic search.
It’s a setup for these modern times as Chaganty and co-writer/producer Sev Ohanian shrewdly use this technique to mirror the film’s central theme — that social media is a double-edged sword, an opportunity to express ourselves and also a chance to hide our true selves from others.
The hardest challenge here is making images of an actor staring into a screen interesting enough to keep us hooked. Chaganty gets around that cinematic inertia with quick edits and an intimate and emotional opening segment that puts the soul in “Searching’s” engine and makes us care.
In a sequence reminiscent of the beautiful first moments of Pixar’s “Up,” Chaganty and Ohanian whisk us through a series of photos, videos and memories of the Kim family. We see glimpses of joyous times between husband David and wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) and on to the birth and eventual piano recitals of a growing older daughter Margot. Ultimately, we arrive at the tragedy that defines the family now. It’s artistically done, without overtly tugging on heartstrings.
David joins forces with Detective Vick (Debra Messing of TV’s “Will & Grace”) and the two root around together. Also providing David with support is his weed-loving brother (Joseph Lee). The search that ensues involves trying to pinpoint Margot’s possible locations in the South Bay (the film is set in the Bay Area, but was mostly filmed elsewhere).
Naturally, there are red herrings galore, each delivered with an Agatha Christie-like zeal and all helping ratchet up tension in a thriller refreshingly devoid of bloodshed.
The strong cast contributes in creating this sense of jangly, nerve-wracking tension. The clear standout is Cho (“Star Trek,” the “Harold and Kumar” movies). His performance is elegant, modulated and convincing, never overplaying the theatrics of the character’s plight.
While a movie that relies on computer screens to tell its story has been done previously, in the effective 2015 horror film “Unfriended,” “Searching” boldly takes the concept further and succeeds because there’s a clear understanding of and respect for the essentials of good storytelling: fully developed characters, a strong narrative and a sense of purpose. “Searching” delivers on all counts, and that — not the gimmick — is what makes it one of the best thrillers of the year so far.
Randy Myers is a freelance correspondent covering film and is the president of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
Rated: PG-13 (thematic content, some drug and sexual references, language)
Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
- How the New Adam Driver Movie ‘The Report’ Turns Political Thrillers Inside Out
- Dread and dripping
- The Best Horror Movies of 2018 (So Far)
- After the
Film review: ‘Searching’ for a great thriller? We just watched it have 677 words, post on www.mercurynews.com at August 22, 2018. This is cached page on Auto News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.