Quietly sneaking into the tail end of the dead month during the summer movie season is Searching, and it’s really wonderful that it did, because this film is fantastic. Many adjectives will surely swirl around one’s head when watching and reflecting on this movie, but the number one word that comes to mind is engaging. Rarely does one get to experience a cinematic showing that so viciously arrests the attention of the viewer at all times. It’s an irresistible spectacle: tense, mysterious, and nerve-frying to the extreme, leaving plenty of room for a number of satisfying twists, turns, and developments. Watching a thriller such as this that has clearly been so meticulously crafted is an absolute treat.
Searching, starring John Cho and Debra Messing, follows the disappearance and subsequent investigation of David Kim’s daughter, Margot Kim. While this sort of plot for a mystery-based thriller certainly isn’t new (Think: “I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you”), the presentation of the film, at least for this genre, certainly is. Searching, much like other recent films such as Unfriended, presents the entire story through a screen. Examples include FaceTime, newsreels, and other sorts of broadcasts. It’s a very interesting way to produce a film, and the director of the movie, Aneesh Chaganty, has talked about the many challenges in shooting and crafting a feature-length movie in this style. Chaganty and his team should be applauded, however, as this method led to a film that is simultaneously harrowingly relatable and freakishly realistic.
The movie manages to pull off this form of storytelling so well because of the organic way in which it presents its footage. All of the various camera placements are believable, and the movie doesn’t try to abuse its style of limited screen space in the interest of any cheap tricks. None of the events that unfold on the cinema screen seem far-fetched (even going as far as to have the hapless middle-aged dad David spell tumblr as “tumbler” for the first time). This is critically important, because as soon as the spell of realism over the audience is lost, so is the power and magnitude of the thrills. Searching has no interest in losing your attention, and it masterfully takes the seemingly innocent and decidedly limited setting of a Macbook desktop and uses it as a hypermodern canvas in order to paint a robust, unnerving story of suspense and tension. (Seriously, you’ll probably feel your heart pumping a little faster the next time you open up FaceTime.)
Just as excellent as the directing, however, is the acting. Cho is consistently brilliant throughout the course of the film’s hour-and-42-minute runtime. He really flexes his acting chops in a large number of the scenes, displaying a wide range of emotions through both facial and vocal expressions, and he certainly plays a large role in contributing to the overall immersiveness and immediacy of the plot.
Another highlight of the movie and one of the reasons why it is so engaging is its pacing. The film was patiently metered out, pulsing along at a naturalistic but also breathtaking speed. Just when one might think that things are winding down, they rev back up again, always accompanied by the skin-crawling low electronic notes in the background, letting the viewer know that there’s still more of the mystery to be found and unraveled. It really is a great benefit that the movie knows how to parcel out its thrills, as there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a film in which everything interesting happens over the course of 20 minutes. The conclusion was also excellent as well. Without spoiling anything, it can certainly be said with confidence that not even the most savvy viewer would be able to guess how the film ends until it’s presented to them, which is just how it should be for mystery films.
Searching is a riveting, suspenseful delight, and a movie that can be recommended to really anyone who enjoys being thoroughly entertained at the cinema. Be prepared to hold your breath, squirm nervously, rustle your popcorn, and sit firmly planted on the edge of your seat when you watch this one.
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