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‘Searching’ is more intelligent than average web-based thriller

September 8, 2018

World-building in films is an exciting adventure...when it works. For example: I’m all for believing that dinosaurs can be re-created at a theme park, or superheroes can zip through the streets at any time, as long as everyone within the film plays by the rules it creates. But when a film makes up its rules as it goes along, it can lose me.

It was one of my biggest beefs with the acclaimed modern horror “It Follows.” The film established early on that the monster stalking the main characters cannot be killed by a bullet, but they are all comforted by the fact that maybe two bullets will do the trick. There is no logic attached, seemingly no justification, just convenience.  

I give credit to the thriller “Searching” because it does everything it can to stay within the world it has created...on the screen of a computer. Sometimes, this is a fault, but not enough to bring down this technically accomplished first effort from director Aneesh Chaganty. 

We exist inside the screen of David Kim (played by John Cho). When his teen daughter goes missing, a local police investigation is opened, led by a sympathetic detective (played by Debra Messing). Increasingly desperate, David begins to dig deeper into his daughter’s files, discovering that she was not completely honest with him and that far more foul forces may be afoot. 

With its construction of seemingly all computer-based technology (social media files, search engines, map applications), the story unfolds, and, at times, unravels, stumbling through some of the intimate moments that somehow wound up online and captured on film. But despite all that, its meditative measures on identity, parental relationships and the dependence on technology itself, are always handled with craft and precision. 

Unlike so many of its web-based cinematic counterparts, “Searching” does not make the internet the enemy of its protagonists. Sure, it has its pitfalls, but it also comes to the rescue on more than one occasion.  

Cho, who is in virtually every scene, is always a treat to watch, as we see him escalate with each detail that emerges, even as they fail to bring him closer to his lost daughter. 

And while the conclusion may seem narratively convenient, it still serves to reinforce its point of a parent’s desperation and the lengths to which one will go to keep children protected. While not the classic it is being heralded as, “Searching” is far more intelligent than the average web-based thriller and the various trappings found within. 

  • Rob is the head of the English and Communications Department at Delaware Technical Community College, where he teaches film. He is also one of the founders of the Rehoboth Beach Film Society and is lead entertainment writer for Influx Magazine. Email him at filmrob@gmail.com.