I’m not sure if this is an unpopular opinion or not, but when Unfriended was released in 2014, It was a contender for worst film of that year. I saw this film on a cinema screen and the whole experience of watching a computer screen in a packed cinema was too uncanny for my liking. However, I watched it again on my computer and I felt more comfortable viewing it. At that moment I concluded that films like this are better suited to a viewing platform familiar to the style of cinematography and filmmaking practices the film presents. The same conclusion I made all those years ago plagued me before the opening credits of Searching. Should I have worried then? I can only answer with yes and no.
Firstly, as much as I wouldn’t like to admit it, the style has evolved for the better. Director Aneesh Chaganty must have watched the Unfriended series and thought “what’s wrong with the standard filmmaking practices”. Which is why when you see Searching, you’ll notice that even though it takes place on a computer screen, it looks more like a film shot on camera. The lighting, for instance, looks more professional and the framing felt precise and planned. In Unfriended (I’m going to use these films a lot as the bar) the presentation felt like the filmmakers were at times winging it with the way characters moved or how lighting was used in the frame, Searching make you feel like you’re watching a film that has been reworked and reworked again, making sure every filmmaking aspect is utilized to its potential. As this is Aneesh’s debut feature film, I applaud the amount of professionalism that showed in the film, Searching is not shot on a computer screen just to save money, there is a purpose, it best presents the narrative.
The mystery at the heart of the narrative is fantastically written. It is boosted by the fact we are given a heart-warming and crushing presentation of the family before the events of the film which adds a nice touch of instantaneous connection to the characters of David (John Cho), Pamela (Sara Sohn) and Margot (Michelle La). But it is John Cho who absolutely nails his role as the concerned father. Even though he is iconic for his roles as Harold from Harold & Kumar as well as Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek film series, this may be his greatest dramatic performance. Seeing his character go through the twists and turns of the narrative is more than worth rooting for.
Something the film tackles very well is showing real vs online personalities. David talks to supposed friends of Margot who act and respond differently once she goes missing. Online they show a huge amount of worry and concern, yet in reality, they’re really not that interested in her. I never thought a film like this could commentate of things like this, I was expecting the entire film to be story driven, yet it sneaks little pieces of social commentary that goes unnoticed unless you’re really paying attention. In fact, this is how you know the story is working for you.
I stand by my statement that films that take place on a computer screen have changed for the better, but the uncanny feeling of watching it on the big screen remained. I guess that because we’ve only had three major films released in this style, with two from the same series, this new way of storytelling hasn’t had a chance to be looked further into. I would have liked to see more mobility in the shots, half the time they were too stationary which can be a bore to watch. To spice things up even further, why not use practical means of manipulating the image (we got a taste of this is Unfriended: Dark Web). This is a style of filmmaking worth experimenting on and I never felt Searching was ever tempted to take that risk.
The film does start to flop after a while as the final moments are a way of getting out all of the exposition and I’m sad to say it felt underwhelming. There are so many possibilities and eventualities that could have happened to Margot, was she involved in something dangerous? Did she run away? However, the explanation to the entire mystery is not bad, but it’s not great either. The audience is so invested in the complexity of Margot’s disappearance you have to follow that up with a massive payoff.
My opinions still haven’t changed about computer screen films, but I’m glad that a film like Searching was used in this style because it is used so professionally in what is Aneesh’s feature film debut, I will definitely be on the looking for his next project and I also want to know how skilled he is with a traditional film production. In the end, Searching is a thrilling mystery that is very engaging (it’s just a shame it let itself down at the end) with great dramatic performances from John Cho and some of the additional cast. But if audiences are going to consider this style of filmmaking as a new normal, then we have to have directors who are willing to risk everything through experimentation.
Final Result: 7/10 – Good
Have you seen Searching? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: The Nun