Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Screenwriters: Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian
Runtime: 102 mins.
Australian release date: 13 September 2018
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 6 September 2018.
In a world where our basic everyday communication is managed by technology and real-time face-to-face interaction has almost become a thing of the past, a new trend in filmmaking is emerging. Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching is a perfect example of this movement and it sets a new bar for this type of film - let’s call it techno-fusion. Or, as co-producer Timur Bekmambetov calls it, ‘screen life’. He explains, “We spend half of our time now in front of us on our devices and it means our ‘screen life’ is quite important to us and reveals so much about us. Our entire lives play out on our devices - fear, love, friendship, betrayal, our fondest memories, our silliest moments. It seemed to me that there wasn’t a way to tell stories about today's world and today's characters without showing our screens. Because multiple dramatic life events play out on our phones and computers. Most importantly we make impactful moral choices today with these instruments.”
Embracing the current tendency to use more ethnically diverse actors in roles that were once reserved for Anglo or European characters, Searching has a predominately American-Asian cast (cf. Crazy Rich Asians, Mile 22). At the film’s outset, we see a montage of early digital footage of the family life of a couple, David Kim (John Cho) and his wife Pamela (Sara Sohn), celebrating various birthdays with their young daughter, and it is obvious that they are a close-knit, loving group. Through this clever device we learn that their happy existence was torn apart when Pamela succumbed to cancer and David and his now 16-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La), have had to cope without her. Both father and daughter lead very busy lives and it soon becomes apparent that most of their communication is carried out via email, Instagram, SMS and FaceBook on their respective devices. When Margot doesn’t return home after spending a night with her school study group, nor arrive for her piano lesson the next day, David reports her missing. The policewoman assigned to the case, Detective Vick (Debra Messing, who’s a long way from Will & Grace territory), advises him to try to track Margot’s movements by using information from her laptop and messages she’s left on his phone, and David quickly realises that he didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought he did.
Does this work? Yes, it does! Bekmambetov’s production company gave creative freedom to the director, Chaganty, and his co-creator Sev Ohanian, mates from film school, and some ingenious rigs were invented specifically for the ‘screen life’ format. What could have been an intensely irritating experience is in fact exhilarating, in the sense that you’re seeing something that you haven’t quite seen before, even though there’s a conventional plot at the film’s core. “You’ll see a lot of the traditional elements of the mystery thriller,” Chaganty explains. “Our goal was to mirror those things that we loved best and adapt that into the ‘screen life’ concept.”
We live in the age of the digital footprint and Searching could be viewed as a wake-up call for many to reconsider this faceless form of conducting relationships. As David delves into his daughter’s life, he discovers that it's not only he who knows very little about her, most of the people he gets in touch with through his daughter’s ‘contacts’ know very little about her either. Reflect for a moment and think of your own online communications and what they can reveal (or hide) about the ‘real’ you in just a few sentences. It’s a sad scenario but not uncommon in the digital age and it may make you think twice about sending an email or text message in the future, when you could actually call someone directly, or, OMG, meet them in the flesh! Maybe this original film is teaching us a lesson that we should listen to, that we have already reached such a level of disconnect we’re in danger of losing the very thing that makes us human - physical contact. Searching is a sobering experience that’ll keep you guessing, and thinking, ‘til the very end.