By Steven Sheehan.
A couple of weeks ago saw the release of the second film in the Unfriended horror series. The films play out in their entirety on a computer screen.
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) produced both films. He does so again with Searching. This is a thriller that takes place almost on an Apple laptop.
Like the small handful of films that have used this gimmick before, Searching plays on many of our modern day fears about technology. It looks at the different personas and lifestyles we are able to assume online. Also, the excessive amount of time many of us spend using our digital devices.
Searching: Filmed On-Screen
The film opens on a blank Microsoft home screen. Then, takes us back through the history of David (John Cho), his wife Pamela (Sara Sohn) and their young daughter Margot
Director Aneesh Chaganty shows us photos of Margot’s first day at school and piano lessons. Moving through time he reveals Pamela dealing with lymphoma and succumbing to the disease.
We arrive in the present day to see 16-year-old, Margot (Michella La) and her dad exchanging texts and speaking on FaceTime. (although you wonder why David uses the laptop rather than his mobile).
They appear to have the usual father-daughter relationship. Yet, there are small hints that Pamela’s death has changed the dynamics.
When Margot doesn’t return from a study session at her friend’s house concern grows into a panic. Particularly as the hours and days pass without any news.
Searching spends its time in a world many recognise. Be it opening tabs in Google or delving into Instagram, Facebook, iMessage, Gmail etc.
Once David’s daughter has been missing for 24 hours he contacts the police. Detective Vick (Debra Messing) searches offline while he hunts for clues in her online accounts.
John Cho (most famous for the Harold & Kumar films) continues to show his dramatic ability outstrips his comedic chops. There is plenty resting on his performance to carry the emotional weight of the story. The severity of the situation is never in doubt. The audience may be manipulated at times. Yet, the relationship with his daughter always feels genuine.
A Clever Idea
Setting the story almost only on a laptop is a clever idea that also brings with it some problems. The main one being it will age as digital platforms quickly evolve. The apps and programs used by teenagers change. (not a reference to Snap Chat throughout).
While there are some gaping plot holes and twists that would derail many other films, it remains an effective thriller. This is thanks to Cho’s performance who turns it into an emotional experience by the end
Never a Dull Moment
Whatever problems exist within the plot, Searching is never dull and manages to zip through its 105 minutes at a brisk pace. It’s a high concept idea that doesn’t confuse itself with unnecessary complications. You never feel lost despite the open windows and reliance on text and mouse arrows.
The reason it works so well is that it connects to our ever-expanding lives online. It underscores the point that our ability to see the real world through a digital lens only goes so far.
Searching opens in UK cinemas Friday 31st August.