“Taken” meets “Unfriended,” but actually good
Jeff Lamson – Arts & Entertainment Editor
In a similar “seen through the screen,” found footage type of presentation as 2015’s “Unfriended,” “Searching,” makes the visuals an essential part of a compelling narrative but will break immersion in favor of conventional editing and sound.
Following the death of his wife Pamela Nam Kim (Sara Soh), David Kim (John Cho) struggles to connect with his 16-year-old daughter, Margot (Michelle La). Margot then goes missing and David throws himself into the investigation to find her with help from Detective Vick (Debra Messing).
Everything the viewer’s screen is given to them as if it is on a computer or phone screen. Both visuals and audio are conveyed in a way that makes the viewer question whether or not this was meant to be believable as found footage or just a cost-effective way to shoot a film.
Despite efforts to include instances of diegetic sound and believable interactions, it is a dead giveaway when the film decides that it wants to have a generic, mystery-thriller score or use a transition effect that would not naturally happen.
It also suggested that a live TV news station would cover an ongoing crime scene so up to the minute that they put themselves in a situation in which the possibility of the corpse of a minor being shown on screen might happen.
It was an inventive idea for an opening scene to start with Windows XP, move on to a modern Mac OS, showing the old YouTube layout and watching the young Kim family raise their child in the digital age. But, the nagging feeling in this opening scene was just how the heck the family had such a high-quality webcam in the Windows XP era.
Despite some of the artistic choices, the presentation works in favor of a film in which much of the plot has to do with the internet and texts and calls. It may have been very jarring or hard to visually represent in an entertaining way if this style was not chosen.
It was also able to show subtle and interesting changes in the character’s over time. Like how David’s texting with his daughter goes from firm with strict punctuation and tone to throwing grammar to the wind and using emojis. Just that was enough to show that David made a commitment to meeting his daughter on her level, which was part of the catalyst for their conflict.
And the format allows the film to do even more in that vein, even if some of the clue discovering and reincorporations are not quite as subtle.
The choices made in favor of more familiar cinematic conventions show a weird contrast with the choice to present the film as such and even avoid modern conventions at times. It is as if some things may have been miscommunicated between the creators.
The film takes many twists and turns throughout its run time, and never bores the viewer. As David chases loose end after loose end, he begins to question his trust in those closest to him and the viewer feels his helplessness as possible answers run out.
It was not hard to guess who the eventual perpetrator was, but the film does a great job of convincing you that they’re on David’s side.
“Searching,” raises questions about what it means to be a parent, and how far one would go for one’s child. To protect their lives and to protect them from their responsibilities.
Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing.