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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Quick-take: SEARCHING

The Buzz: Searching won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film prize at Sundance Film Festival, which kicked off most of the buzz around this movie. The film's writer and director's career trajectory is also noteworthy. This is the first feature film from 27-year-old Aneesh Chaganty, who turned heads in 2014 by creating a short film, Seeds, which went viral. The short was filmed on Google Glass and, after catching Google's attention, landed Chaganty a creative position at Google. Searching marks Chaganty's turn away from that career path and towards a film trajectory. 

What's Great About the Movie: It seems appropriate that after going viral for a short filmed on Google Glass, Chaganty's first feature film has a similar techno-gimmick running through its DNA. Searching is unique in the way it unfolds its story, visually; everything the audience sees takes place on screen rather than on camera. That means we see the characters do web searches, watch videos, in news clips, and so on - everything we're seeing is something that someone could also watch on a computer. While it doesn't work 100% of the time (sometimes the need to have a screen/camera stretches the narrative), it is fascinating to watch the way it plays out. Unique visuals aside, Searching also features John Cho as father David Kim, who's using the web to trace his daughter's last steps before she went missing. Cho's performance is the most compelling part of this film and what breathes life and emotion into it, which isn't an easy job to do when the audience spends a considerable amount of time looking at computer screens. 

What's Not-So-Great About the Movie: Despite its technical intricacies, and weighty themes (though occasionally hewing a little too closely to "the internet is a scary place" at times, a subject that feels about 20 years too late on arrival), the narrative utterly buckles under its plot, which is built on twist upon twist upon twist and then resolved by a head-smackingly stupid final reveal. It's as if Chaganty and co-writer Sev Ohanian wanted to verge into Gone Girl territory, but lacked the panache to pull off that kind of send-up of trashy Lifetime storytelling, and instead just deliver a routine, and increasingly stupid thriller that is masked by the computer screen gimmick - the diminishing returns of which only unveil the thinness of the script even further. Also, amusingly, David seems to only be able to read text when his cursor floats over it; an example of the premise struggling with ensuring that its audience does indeed follow along. And in terms of performances, despite Cho's good work, Debra Messing is as miscast as she can possibly be as the detective assigned to Margot's case. It's a stiff, unconvincing performance, with a character so ineptly written, you wonder how she could have possibly earned that commendation she's awarded in the film's initial act.

Final Verdict: Searching displays a ton of promise at the outset, and Cho, one of our most undervalued actors, is almost reason to watch alone...but as its runtime rolls on, it grows so head-smackingly stupid and trite, you'll wonder why you wasted the time at all.


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