Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Joseph Lee
IMDB Rating: 7.9/10
Seveno Rating: 7/10
Realistically, there are two different reviews that I’m writing in this post. This film is so unique, that there’s so much more to evaluate here. Beyond all the standard elements (plot, script, acting, direction etc), the screenplay here is completely unlike anything else I’ve ever seen.
After the tragic death of her mother, Margot Kim (La) struggles to connect with her father. One night, after attending a study group at a classmate’s house, Margot disappears, leaving her confused and devastated father David Kim (Cho) to piece together the pieces of his daughter’s on-line presence to try and understand what has happened to her. With the help of Detective Rosemary Vick (Messing) and his younger brother Peter (Lee), David slowly learns more and more about his missing daughter. But as time passes, does he have any hope of ever seeing her again?
This sounds like a fairly clichéd plot, and I suppose for all intents and purposes it is. As an audience we follow David, learning information as he does and as it is slowly revealed to us. Cho is a supremely talented actor, although I did occasionally feel that the format of the film meant that the acting fell flat at points, and felt flawed, lacking perhaps emotion or gravity. But it didn’t detract from the film too much. The story kept me at the edge of my seat, and the characters were notably deep for a thriller. It was also nice to see Debra Messing on screen again, and in a more serious role, because she definitely has the talent to carry herself in intense and weighty scenes. As an audience member you start to really connect with David Kim, and find yourself praying for a happy ending only for the case of his sanity. I was fully invested in this film, and was wholeheartedly satisfied by the events of it.
Personally, I think this film is a massive risk. Firstly, its getting more and more difficult to keep people happy, and on the edge of their seats, with thrillers. The twists need to be bigger, the tension more intense, and the action more thrilling, than ever. As already discussed, I personally was pleasantly surprised by Searching’s plot. It has probably one of the most shocking twists that I’ve seen in a while, and its much easier to make a good film when you’ve got a solid plot.
However, this film takes it to a completely new level, and risks ruining the whole impact of the plot with the style in which it is done. The only reason I really wanted to see this film was because I was intrigued to see what Chaganty had achieved, and what effect it had. The perspective here is really interesting, realistic, and current. It seems that we are all surgically attached to our technology these days, and frequently in films audiences find themselves asking why the characters didn’t just use their phones to solve a problem. So, in that sense, it was really refreshing to see a “normal” person using technology in a situation, that may not be an everyday situation, but one that is certainly realistic. Cho’s character’s reaction, and his investigation, is very relatable as someone who has grown up with this developing technology, and seeing someone put all the amazing resources that we have at our disposal to actually try and find his daughter and potentially save her life is a really compelling journey. Technology, and social media, are such integral parts of modern life, so it is fascinating to see this in contemporary quality cinema. Furthermore, it can be difficult to fit all the important details of the film into this format, but I think that that bit was done really well. Nothing felt forced, or out of place, and the whole narrative just flowed, while at the same time being refreshingly unprecedented. As far as experimenting with a new form goes, the team on this film did a really good job.
However, it did feel a bit gimmicky to me at points. There were times were I felt it may have flowed better visually if it swapped between a computer POV to an actual camera shot. This film would always have had a good plot, and would always have been appealing as it is great for representation of minorities in high profile films, but I wonder whether this film would have been as high profile, or as successful, if it had just been a “normal” thriller, without the added technological element. It was done well, and yes it was pulled of successfully, but it didn’t always feel necessary as a format. I expected the whole appeal of the film to be its unique format, however in the end I found that what won me over was the story line and the character of David Kim.