When teenage schoolgirl Margot goes missing, her widowed father David scours the internet and social media for any clue as to what might have happened to her, uncovering secrets along the way that make him question how well he knows his daughter.
First off, that description probably doesn’t make this film sound particularly appealing, especially when information researching sequences are among the most tedious that modern films have to offer, and so having an entire film consisting of that might put people off. However, Searching is an utterly riveting watch.
Everything that occurs in the film takes place on a screen, be it video calls, news reports, search engine scouring, social media navigation, security footage or livestreaming, all stitched together to relate the increasingly frantic search for Margot, and David’s mounting desperation to uncover any trace of what became of her.
Before all that, the film opens with a sequence as emotional and heartbreaking as those wordless four minutes of Up. Beginning with Margot’s birth, we see her grow up in a video montage of family memories and unconditional love, then her mother Pam becoming ill and eventually passing away. Too often in thrillers where a loved one goes missing, they exist as a nebulous entity whose sole purpose is to motivate the protagonist. But after experiencing sixteen years of family tribulations in a matter of minutes it also gives us a true sense of what David had and has already lost, and by extension how much he still has to lose. This allows us to empathise with his every decision and action since we’ve been provided with all the context we could require.
The visual epistolary is an intriguing stylistic choice, and what could have been dismissed as a mere gimmick instead quickly establishes itself as an indispensible tool of the story’s development. We witness David’s initial attempts to navigate the unfamiliar world of social media’s innumerable facets (“What’s a tumbler?”), through to figuring out how to contact people over the internet, and as he becomes more adept he begins cross-referencing new information with minor details previously stumbled across.
The more David uncovers the more he realises how little he actually knows his daughter. Not just in the typical way of children presenting a different face to their parents that they do to their friends, but also through the growing realisation of his inability to truly connect with Margot following her mother’s death. In many instances we learn things about Margot at the same time David does, and in this way the title refers not only to the search for her and the associated internet function, but also his delving into who his daughter actually is.
Thankfully, there’s none of the usual patronising dismissal of social media’s validity, and instead there are brief looks into issues like how the persona people present online can be artificially constructed illusions, and the multitude of ways available for people to stay in touch with one another can sometimes amplify the crushing isolation of those who feel alone. There are also glances at the insensitive postings people make regarding Margot’s disappearance, all vomiting reactionary opinions and ignorant trolling without consideration that they refer to real people suffering the worst trauma anyone can endure.
Searching is meticulously constructed and tightly plotted, and despite the apparent limitations of its visual storytelling method is as intense and gripping as any action thriller, while also being all the more compelling for its real-life grounding and emotional relatability.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10
SEARCHING / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: ANEESH CHAGANTY / SCREENPLAY: ANEESH CHAGANTY, SEV OHANIAN / STARRING: JOHN CHO, DEBRA MESSING, MICHELLE LA, JOSEPH LEE, SARA SOHN / RELEASE DATE: 31ST AUGUST