BEIRUT: With most of us cinephiles, and most general audience members slowly starting to pick up on Hollywood’s lack of original content and massive box office failures, it is rather nice to walk into a movie theater, sit in the seat and witness a rather new take within the thriller genre.
Taking inspiration from our modern modes of communication, and diving head first into the virtual world, writer and director Aneesh Chaganty and writer and producer Sev Ohanian concoct a suspenseful tale about the lies we tell on our social media profiles and how distant we’ve all become in the Internet age.
The film follows determined father David Kim as he searches for his missing daughter with the help of no-nonsense Detective Vick and modern tools of communication: social media, texts, emails, and an archive of saved photos and video snippets.
Yet, the question remaining is does this film deliver what it promises?
First and foremost, the film’s visual limitations make it challenge and one has to commend both Chaganty and Ohanian for keeping an audience interested and engaged regardless.
The film’s entire story plays out on computer screens, dubbed by Timur Bekmambetov, the film’s producer, as screen-life.
This is the film’s advantage and why this mystery works – for if it were filmed classically, for a lack of a better term, it would have been your run-of-the-mill predictable thriller.
This revelation, however, begs the question: is the fact that the film rests on its visual storytelling make it a weak story made stronger by use of a gimmick?
The answer is not simple.
SEARCHING had some rather beautiful and captivating sequences that felt authentic and quite entertaining to watch due to the story they told.
The film’s opening prologue, a sequence quite influenced by Pixar’s UP, guides the audience through the video chats, calendar entries, home movies shot on phones, and text messages that tell the story of the birth of Margot Kim, the happy early years, and the darker days to follow.
The trick here is that the bulk of the work, from narrative to acting, lies in that opening montage – if it speaks to you, if it gets you, then you’re in, and you accept the premise of the movie but if it doesn’t then the film fails and that is quite a massive risk that all parties involved have taken.
As the film progresses, its concreteness begins to falter.
There were a few beats within the film’s structure that do not land, and some moments felt forced in order to push duration to build the feature film.
When the narrative reaches the final act, SEARCHING begins to deliver twist upon twist, giving HBO’s WESTWORLD a run for its money – but that is not a good thing.
By the time the film ends, the audience is still expecting to have the rug pulled from under them, and none will be settled enough to believe that the film properly concluded – a horrible case of the filmmakers who cried wolf.
Though, Jon Cho, the film’s lead actor, carries the film quite well – Debra Messing, his counterpart, was difficult to absorb as a tough detective, and this is a weakness in the film.
The remaining cast members which include Joseph Lee, and Michelle La, do a respectable and believable job in embodying their characters.
Seeing how the box office climate seems to have a forecast of reboot with a slight chance of original, SEARCHING is a welcomed sight.
The film presents every click and movement of the mouse, every notification, every sound, everything that we now use to experience everyday life in a way that is also compelling and cinematic, and in a way that does pay some homage to the classic thrillers of old, like those of Alfred Hitchcock.
Keeping all the minor flaws in mind, the gimmick works and the film entertains.
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