You’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times that technology has invaded every aspect of our lives. We check our phone first thing when we wake up, we rely on it to tell us the time, manage our calendars, listen to music; it’s something that’s simply inescapable. But in desperate times, can it reveal to us what we need to know?
First-time director Aneesh Chaganty, alongside co-writer Sev Ohanian, introduces us to the Kim family through a familiar 2000s era Microsoft landscape. The mouse scans over profiles for David (John Cho), Pam (Sara Sohn), and finally adds a new user, their daughter Margot (Michelle La). From here we travel the years, the two parents uploading home videos and adding to the album “First Day of School pictures” through every grade. It’s wonderfully sentimental, and the heartstrings are pulled even more so as we learn the mother is diagnosed with lymphoma, and the family calendar soon fills up with hospital appointments in place of piano lessons. Eventually the mouse drags ‘Mom comes home!’ into the desktop trash bin, and we are left with a solemn title screen before the story skips forward one year.
Searching latches onto the familiar connection of a father-daughter relationship and uses it to pilot a stirring narrative. The pair have short-lived facetimes and text exchanges, whether it be to negotiate curfew at a study group, or for David to ask “are you forgetting something?”, as he flips around the phone screen to show a full trash can Margot hadn’t taken out. It’s the brilliantly organic script-writing that puts us straight into a lovable, mundane, and relatable family landscape – before throwing us into the spiralling drama that awaits. David receives missed calls from his daughter in the middle of the night, and from here our worst fears are slowly imagined.
“Hey sweetheart, just give me a call back when you get this” almost becomes David’s catchphrase, as throughout the day he tries to reach his daughter through every form of communication he can. After realizing she left her computer, textbooks, and piano lesson money on the kitchen counter, he jumps to conclusions; Margot is missing. Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) comes aboard the case and the film begins to utilize CCTV footage, alongside ‘Urgent’ email alerts and live newscasts shared online. Just when you think it’s over, something new comes to light, whether it be about Margot, her friends (or lack thereof), or even close family members; the internet is vast, and no one knows the real truth about anyone. That appears to be a moral in Searching; technology can tear us apart, in the sense that we don’t even really know those closest to us, sharing our real selves only secretly online. However, used right, it can help us to find each other.
Clearly, Margot didn’t tell her dad everything. After the death of her mother, she may have been grieving alone in ways she didn’t share. Creating profiles online to vent through her writing and photography. This persona we present online is examined in the film; as the case goes viral, the hypocrisy of hiding behind a keyboard is revealed. #FindMargot is quickly trending on twitter, and people at school who barely spoke to her cry in YouTube vlogs claiming to have been her best friend, and internet trolls plaster “Dad of the Year” over pictures of David. It’s stressful for the audience, who are with David through everything. John Cho’s powerful performance even brought tears to my eyes, so to watch the hashtag #DadDidIt fill the screen as the public weigh in on something they have no authority on hurts. But how many of us are guilty of the same? Twitter is a place to share our opinions, but when we do so about other people’s lives – real people who can read them – there are consequences we may not see.
Chaganty and the team behind Searching have made something quite spectacular. A near-perfectly paced, thrilling drama, and a captivating performance from John Cho, who carries the emotional weight of the film on his shoulders, make for an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
By Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm