Father follows digital footprints in Chaganty's thriller Searching
A wildly unconventional film recently lured moviegoers back to theaters. Searching, the feature debut for writer-director Aneesh Chaganty, is told entirely through a computer screen — FaceTime calls, news stories, old home videos and YouTube videos. In an interview with Screen Rant, Chaganty expressed that the filmmaking approach used in the film was afresh structure.
Chaganty said, “If we were to execute that, maybe it would feel like the first time this has ever been accomplished.”
The film centers around widower David Kim portrayed by John Cho. David realizes that his 16-year-old daughter, Margot, has gone missing. Thirty-seven hours after an investigation is opened, a panicked David decides to track her social media and even check her bank account, only to find the secrets she kept from him for a long time.
After being introduced to Margot’s secrets, David is completely overwhelmed and devastated — he tears up when he sees his teenage daughter grieving about the loss of her mom and creating her own world online to cope with her issue.
Each discovery leads to a different route for the investigation and eventually unravels the secrets that Margot has hidden away.
Finally, this thought-provoking movie throws a question at the audience: in the digital world, should people relearn how to communicate?
In Searching, failure to properly communicate leads to negative consequences. David repeatedly says in the film that he knows his daughter “better than anyone else.” However, when it turns out that he knows nothing about her, the film puts a spotlight on the importance of communicating with others in person.
David calls Margot’s piano instructor before calling the police, who tells him that his daughter stopped coming to her classes a few months ago.
He then reaches out to Margot’s friends, who tell him that they are not that close to Margot. Consequently, David gets to know his daughter without really speaking to her — an expression of how people living in the digital world have different online and offline personalities.
Another theme that echoes throughout the film is that it’s easier for people to rely on the internet for emotional fulfillment.
In an interview with CNET, Chaganty said, “This movie isn't a indictment on technology. It's just, in a weird way, showing that we live our lives on screens.”
Rather than confiding in her father, Margot resorts to sharing her problems with a stranger online — something that happens all too often in real life. People are mostly staring at their digital devices and lose their ties with loved ones, eventually forgetting how to build a true relationship without using their phones.
At the beginning of the film, David is not able to send Margot a text that says, “Your mother would be proud of you.” Toward the end of the film, after learning that he failed to know his daughter fully, he is able to send her the message.
Searching immediately grabs the attention of viewers by diving right into the disappearance of Margot and the investigation. On the surface level, the film might seem like a typical story about a missing child. Nonetheless, Searching, using a nontraditional approach in filmmaking, shows how modern technology has been affecting every single facet of people’s lives.
First and foremost, the story unfolds on the computer screen. A similar technique is used in the screen-based Unfriended series, shedding light on negative online culture. Otherwise, Searching is about how useful the internet can be for people who want to figure things out for themselves. David solves the case of his daughter’s disappearance using the internet alone.
Despite the fact that the movie lacks many other components that most thriller films have, Searching’s advantage lies in the fact that viewers can see action and reaction at the same time.
Cho's face is framed in an extreme close-up, which makes it easy to see his unsettled feelings as he goes through his daughter’s laptop. Every scene in the film captures Cho’s face, which is filled with worry and distress.
Cho is the first Asian-American person to lead a Hollywood thriller, notable when paired with the film’s $6 million gross from its wide release opening weekend. Along with Crazy Rich Asians — which has an all-Asian cast — Searching proves that Asian-American representation can succeed in Hollywood.
While speaking to CNET, Cho mentioned, “This is an example of the end game which is to get to a place where the character is written on the page Asian, but it's also not a point in the plot.”
For obvious reasons, such as great actors and storyline, Searching is a must-see, perfect summer movie. Deviating from the tradition of any thriller film, Searching does a great job in making a satisfying screen-based thriller.