2018 was the year for large-scale experiments in cinema. While you had massively successful horror thrillers like ‘A Quiet Place’ and ‘Hereditary’, you also had a small film like ‘Searching’ that became one of the most successful experiments of the year and introduced us to a completely new form of narrative-driven films. Aneesh Chaganty’s debut film is a taut thriller that revolves around the frantic search of a teenage girl by her father. The gradual build-up crescendos in a humbling climax, which is preceded by a foundational screenplay with intelligent writing and plot twists. ‘Searching’ became the biggest hit of the year in terms of its return of investment, amassing more than 75 times of its budget. Critics showered praise over Chaganty for his original style and the contrast he achieves between the medium and the story he tells. ‘Searching’ begins and ends inside a computer screen, which is facilitated by clever use of technology to set a timeline. It might be a tad disappointing for viewers who go into the film expecting dark tenor locations with a bleak atmosphere.
Since this style of filmmaking is rather new to audiences, Chaganty keeps the story simple. There are certain twists that are truly seat-gripping but nonetheless, predictable. ‘Searching’ runs high on emotional investment for the viewer. The film stars John Cho (Harold and Kumar), who anchors the charge pretty well. Overall, debutant Chaganty enthralls with his style and proves himself as a filmmaker to look out for. He has already started working on his next, ‘Run’, starring Sarah Paulson, which has now skyrocketed expectations.
Told through various memories of the Kim family on a computer, ‘Searching’ starts on a melancholic note. In the initial moments, we see how Pamela, David’s wife, and Margot’s mother, tests positive for cancer. She makes a healthy recovery, only for the disease to relapse. This time, though, she is not successful in overcoming the disease, told through a beautiful scene where we see her account being deleted. Margot, now a teenager, is strangely distanced from her father ever since her mother’s demise. Promising David that she is spending the night at a friend’s for a group-study, Margot suspiciously phones David in the night, which he misses.
Her missed calls do raise an alarm, which he quickly refutes due to a school day. When he can’t reach her and she doesn’t show up at the house, he calls her piano instructor. Margot was introduced to and taught by her mother. The instructor, shockingly, reveals that Margot has not paid her tuition for six months. The story picks up the pace with Margot’s disappearance finally being confirmed. David then cracks into Margot’s laptop and discovers that she has been transferring the money into someone else’s account. A search then begins for Margot, all taking place through a computer screen in breathtaking fashion.
The plot of ‘Searching’ has its twists. Although they are in line with the already popularized versions of construction of thrill in plots, ‘Searching’ executes them well. The plot twists still feel hollow in their conceptualization. If perhaps they were better written, the end-product could have benefited more. Many films in the past have done without the use of a large character verse. Films like ‘Buried’, ‘Locke’, and the recently released ‘The Guilty’ have proven that the writing in any movie is the real hero. ‘Searching’s tension is not terse in nature and has a rather temporary nature. After leaving the hall, you might forget about the film, something which Chaganty would not have wanted. Overall, it has to be said that weak writing pulls the film down.