Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Review: Searching

Cert: 12A / 102 mins / Dir. Aneesh Chaganty / Trailer

The Premise: When his daughter Margot (Michella La) suddenly goes missing, David Kim (John Cho) finds himself desperately poring through her Digital Footprint™ in a bid to uncover clues as to her whereabouts. As California Detective Vick (Debra Messing) leads the police investigation to locate Margot, the country's media and its audience of millions looks on…

The Methodology: Searching utilises the same premise as 2015 horror movie Unfriended, in that everything presented to the audience is ostensibly viewed through computer screens, Face Time conversations and CCTV footage. The film draws heavily on the spirit of the digital age, showing both the hazards and benefits of online life*1.

The Good: Earnest, thoughtful and dynamic performances from John Cho and Michelle La. Especially given that Cho is quite often alone in a room, acting on direction only. The 'screen technique' will seem heavy handed to audience members who use computers frequently, but it's a solid way of dropping details into the story which would otherwise be spoken by characters in a thoroughly clunky manner.

The Bad: The film's main selling-point - the fact that everything we see is effectively a digital reconstruction - is simultaneously the most interesting and annoying thing about it. Unlike that horror movie I mentioned, Searching doesn't occur in real-time, and we're treated to near constant 'Ken Burns' panning and zooming, which renders the laptop displays almost pointless. Additionally, the film switches between various devices and there are gaps in the narrative as it spans several days. Everything we need to see is covered, but while the details are there, quite often the dialogue-free reveal of them means they're way over explained. And the third-act reveal is telegraphed to the point that when the audience arrive in the theatre before the film, there are still workmen digging holes for the posts to go in…

The Ugly: This is the cinematic equivalent of a D*ily M*il story: Computers are complicated, secretive and inherently terrifying! You have no idea what your children are really up to because they all speak this secret language and oh my god sometimes people use pseudonyms and buy the drugs!! And it's horrifyingly easy to find stuff out about people online and hack someone's accounts, but if you've been uploading family videos of your child to YouTube for the last decade, that doesn't count at all. Oh, and interfering with an ongoing police investigation is obviously fine, too. Don't call in your evidence mate, just go round twatting people like any unhinged vigilante would.

The Verdict: If it wasn't for the central storytelling technique of relaying all events through digital displays, this would be a Liam Neeson film but with less punching. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but at its narrative core, Searching is a completely unremarkable thriller…*2

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Unfriended, basically.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It's not really designed to be watched in a cinema, but that's entirely up to you.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, because viwers other than the hardcore fans of John Cho and Debra Messing will have little need to re-watch in the future.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Good, often great, but not best.
Debra Messing almost goes full-pantomime, though

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
We might.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: John Cho's in this, and he was in that Star Trek with Simon 'Dengar' Pegg.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 According to what we see, the family were using Windows XP right up until 2015. They deserve everything that happens to them, frankly. [ BACK ]

*2 It's silly-season in cinemas right now of course, and special entertainment thanks tonight must go to the four… ahem… 'senior' patrons who took a full two minutes to get from the foyer into the screen-corridor, as they apparently have no idea how the new-fangled concept of 'tickets' works (they were going to see Mamma Mia 2). I don't expect everyone to be as au fait with the cinemagoing process as me of course, but still. Extra bonus points go to the completely separate but equally befuddled quartet, who waited until the BBFC card displayed the details for 'Searching' before realising they'd come into the wrong screen (they were meant to be seeing Mamma Mia 2). Cinema staff: my heart goes out to you good folks right now. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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