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A parent’s worst nightmare from a virtual view

Social media stalking all of a sudden isn’t so funny now.

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty (directorial debut for a full-length feature film), Searching stars John Cho, Debra Messing, Sarah Sohn, Michelle La and Joseph Lee.

When David’s daughter, Margot, goes missing, played by John Cho and Michelle La, respectively, his only option to help find her is to go on her laptop and find clues on why and how she went missing, all while the police and a detective, played by Debra Messing, try to locate her.

Getting gimmicks out of the way, Searching is directed on the screens of computers and phones using webcams. Apple found a nice buck. While the platform on which it is shot isn’t as appealing or visually stunning as using an IMAX or RED camera, the story and characters help bring this format to life; it’s disturbingly real and genius.

Unlike Unfriended and its sequel, Searching isn’t a horror movie on the phone and webcam format; It’s a thriller. Though differentiating the two genres in Searching is difficult because of how real and terrifying it is to have your own child missing, it strives to be a film with solid filmmaking.

It can be difficult to be invested in a character when they are only shown through either news footage or a webcam. Searching uses the webcam format to flesh out its characters by having a very limited amount of characters that the audience actually follows.

Chaganty fills in the gaps of the main characters’ pasts by having a montage of photos and videos using files saved on David’s computer. There’s a certain Pixar’s Up inspiration for dramatization. It works well and, again, feels real.

The interactions between David, an absolutely devastated and worried father, trying to get on the same page as Detective Vick, who is trying to level with David’s emotions, is fluid. They bicker and share emotional moments in the film that are more impactful than films that have epic landscapes and top-tier visuals.

There are hints to some of the twists and turns scattered throughout the movie, and as a desperate father, David skips over some before returning to find them later. The format is limited in what the audience can see at times. We just won’t always catch it the first time. David’s experience online and with webcams is what the audience experiences. He’s almost like an avatar for us while we’re living out this nightmare.

Chaganty and Sev Ohanian wrote Searching together. They deserve high praise for pulling off a creative story of an abduction/runaway that keeps the audience guessing.

As a testament to the audience reaction, Searching is one of the movies I have seen in theaters with the most amount of gasps or “No way”’s by the audience.

It’s probably safe to say that this was the perfect debut for Chaganty, seeing as he left his job at Google to pursue this project.

There are times when I felt there were too many twists but the exhilaration that the case was not over yet had me on my toes until the end. Does it end with a pretty bow tied on top or does it end depressingly?

It doesn’t matter how I wanted Searching to end. In the end, I’m glad that the writers were able to create a story that makes the audience feel like they’re experiencing a first-person disaster situation.

Like old men making comebacks in violent action films and superheroes flying, saving the world, Searching can be seen as a cheap gimmick. But like John Wick and The Dark Knight, Chaganty’s film shows that originality and brilliance can be found even in the darkest corners of the web.

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