Searching review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Searching is not the first film to use the computer desktop environment to weave a technology-bound bottle thriller but it’s certainly one of the best. A lot of films that take advantage of this budgeted format often tend to get lost in the theatrics or try too hard to stir up something fantastical, as seen in the likes of the slasher picture Unfriended and the too-twisty thriller Open Windows. This film is far more grounded and astute that it makes this thriller far more compelling with less questioning of the mechanics.
We’re introduced to the history of a family through various operating systems. Over time, we watch their environments change as much as the Kim family. Daniel Kim (John Cho) raises his daughter Margot with his wife Pamela. Through photos and videos, we see them grow up. Pamela passes away from her long battle with cancer and Margot is soon off to high school. It’s a difficult and different time for Daniel, trying to learn to let go of his daughter who grows more distant from her dad. That is until one night she doesn’t come home. He doesn’t know where she is. She is not responding. Something is wrong.
Daniel tries to find a series of clues as to where his daughter went. Thankfully, even though she wasn’t open with her dad, she had been very open online. Searching through her various online profiles, she slowly peels back a string of friends and actions he never knew about. He thought she was continuing her piano lessons but that was a lie. Her various classmates referred to her as more of an outsider, someone who was very different around her dad. What follows is a twisty plot as the online layers scale back and betrayal is afoot from various angles as the investigation continues.
The film paints an intriguing picture of privacy and how easy it is to turn detective in our online environment. The ease of access allows for Daniel to multitask, getting ready for an online meeting while also learning something devastating about his daughter. He can peer into the background of online chats and pick out clues. He can scan pictures and observe chats and VODs to determine who his daughter was talking with and when. He pokes around various social platforms with the same curiosity of a detective from yesteryear strolling into a scummy back alley to find some info.
Though the thriller takes a twist that is perhaps a tad too odd for the sake of surprise, it never feels like this staging runs itself off a cliff to get goofy with the procedure. Everything within Daniel’s investigation feels real and relatable even if the mysterious plot seems more weak-season CSI. There’s never a moment when the film doesn’t feel engaging and takes the liberties where it needs to in telling a story entirely through media. This is a fairly new subgenre of trying to make modern mysteries more appealing and Searching provides comfort that there will at least be some intelligence behind this format instead of just being online boogeymen stories we’ve received so many times in the past.