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Movie Review: “Searching” For More Than A Gimmick?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018 | Review

By: Brett McNeill

Starring John Cho, Debra Messing and Joseph Lee
Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Bazelevs Entertainment 

The thriller-on-the-internet trope is nothing groundbreaking. Not only have we had Unfriended, but its sequel Unfriended: Dark Web was also just released a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, Aneesh Chaganty’s new found footage thriller Searching overcomes its seeming unoriginality, not only by being engaging and tense, but also featuring truly emotional moments.

The story involves David (John Cho), whose wife has recently died of cancer and whose daughter, Margot (Michelle La), is slowly pulling away from him. One night, David sleeps through frantic phone calls from his daughter only to find out the next day that she has gone missing. Desperate to find his daughter, David turns to Margot’s computer to find clues with the help of Detective Vick (Debra Messing). In keeping with the Unfriended series, all of the events in the movie take place on various computer screens and devices.

Although the technique has been done before, the film’s presentation is surprisingly effective. There is an early investigation scene on Margot’s laptop that is truly suspenseful and while it is mostly seen through typing and tons of FaceTime conversations, it creates tension that permeates throughout the result of the film. Most impressive of all, is the film’s genuine emotion and empathy. The opening montage put people in my screening to tears and hooked them for what was to come next.

While there is a lot to like about Searching, it’s not without its flaws. Like most found footage movies, the film’s presentation style stretches its premise to the extreme, showing us video and conversations that would never be presented as they are in the film. On top of that, the actors don’t seem entirely comfortable with the shooting method, resulting in some stilted performances (which is not helped by some pretty bad dialogue).

Horror fans will know the tropes and setbacks that come with the found footage subgenre going into this movie. But if you can get past them, Searching is a tense and suspenseful time. If not, your own computer could be an adequate substitute.