Searching tells the story of a father, David Kim (John Cho) who looks for clues when his daughter, Margot (Michelle La) goes missing.
The film brings together classic motifs of a thriller, including the tough question of “How well do we really know our loved ones?” but it also includes a very modern element – the film is shot entirely through the POV of screens, televisions, phones and computers.
It is by no means the first film to do so, as director Aneesh Chaganty praises other films such as Unfriended to have paved the way, but it is one of the first to be consistent with the use of screens.
Chaganty used to work at Google, therefore, he knows his way around computers. For him, it was extremely important to use real websites and known resources.
Searching never uses a shot that isn’t inside a screen – when you think the plot can’t be incorporated into another shot of a MacBook or iPhone, Chaganty uses news reports on television screens.
To link these shots together, and to make it feel like a film rather than a compilation of short snaps, there is an element of conventional cinematography in the film with pans and zooms; this helps bind the film.
When I think of screen POV, the first horror that comes to mind is Paranormal Activity, a found-footage film that has numerous sequels, but also follows in the footsteps of classic horrors like The Blair Witch Project.
The difference between these projects and Searching is that the latter isn’t found-footage. The subgenre is still present in cinema, especially horror – REC, Cloverfield, Creep, V/H/S, and The Devil’s Doorway.
Although sometimes they’re made using this style because of a low budget or easy way onto the horror scene, it’s not always the case: renowned director M. Night Shyamalan has made use of this filmmaking technique in The Visit.
Whilst films like The Blair Witch Project take their time to progress, Searching does the opposite, playing with the idea that we need to know everything that is happening in real time, especially if it’s a horrific case like the one portrayed in this film.
When a case such as Margot’s disappearance happens in real life, we watch it unravel with fierce attention, almost as if we’re solving the puzzle ourselves.
As I watched the film, I realised that the filmmaking technique matched the plot in many ways. Internet and technology bring people together, especially those who live far away, but in this film, we have a father and a daughter who live together in the same house, but they still use Internet to communicate.
It shows how distant people can be even when they are near. This parental relationship is going through a rough period after the death of Margot’s mum, Pamela (Sara Sohn). The family that used to make home videos and share every second together is shattered when Pamela dies of cancer.
Margot and David must learn to mend their broken family, but David fails to open up, thus driving each other farther away and causing him to doubt whether he really knew his daughter when evidence of her personality comes to the surface.
The film also does a socio-commentary on the modern use of technology and social media. Unlike the 2015 film Ratter this film shows the Internet as a helpful tool and the socio-commentary is not of the dangers of the Internet, but more of how much we use it to favour ourselves.
The sensationalism exacerbated by the media and people on social media websites, such as Facebook is also thrown into the mix. As Margot goes missing, hashtags are created and suddenly everyone is her best friend. These uncertainties and lies do not help David and Detective Rosemary (Debra Messing) as they try to find her.
Cho plays the part of Kim perfectly – he looks like an everyday guy, but he also shows us a strength that we don’t even know exists within ourselves
Cho has been emerging for some time, being the lead in comedies such as Harold & Kumar get the Munchies, but his abilities are beyond previous acting parts. Lately he’s starred in big productions such as Star Trek and has been accepted in the horror genre, being cast in TV shows such as Sleepy Hollow, as the protagonist in the second season of The Exorcist and the upcoming remake of the Japanese-horror, Grudge.
Chaganty directs Searching but he’s penned the script with Sev Ohanian, who is a co-writer on Chaganty’s next project, Run, a thriller about a home-schooled girl that suspects her mum is not who she thinks she is.
If Run is anything like Searching… I cannot wait to see it!
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