I hadn't expected to write another Capsule Review so soon, but I just saw an incredibly clever movie yesterday that deserves attention. It's somewhat in the high-concept vein of Phone Booth -- (that's the film where a guy answers the pay phone, he's told not to hang up or he'll get shot, and pretty much the entire movie takes place in that phone booth) -- which is a kind of move I love when done well. And this new film is done very well.
The movie is called Searching. It concerns a father whose daughter goes missing, and the high-concept twist is that we follow his efforts to find her entirely from the perspective of seeing only his computer screen. For instance, he uses Facetime to contact people and stay in touch with the police, watches YouTube videos that give us backstory, checks out lots of social media videos as he tries to track down what his daughter could have been doing before she disappeared, there's a lot live-streaming and so on. It may not have the most detailed layers, but it’s awfully good and is such a tremendously clever idea that they handle wonderfully. Using the device sometimes keeps you at arm's length and from there from being more close human interaction, though that distance is one of the things that keeps you as "frustrated" as the father is and builds tension. (Also, to be clear, there is "in-person" interaction between people -- I don't want to say how, since discovering how they pull all this off is some of the fun.)
What I especially admired is that there’s some great social commentary, handled subtly and effectively. One of my favorite parts is after the news story of the missing girl goes public, and we see the TV video clips online, we then get the world of social media chiming in with their “theories” and accusations of what happened. And it’s so wonderfully done because it’s not like we see only two or three reactions of someone talking to a reporter, like in a normal movie, but because this is solely from the perspective of looking at a computer monitor, for each social media service the father goes to, searching, he scrolls down ALL the voluminous comments to check for anything, so we see dozens upon dozens of people’s reactions – heartfelt, snarky, know-it-all, the whole gamut. And these user comments are SO believably written by the screenwriters.
Huge credit goes to Aneesh Chaganty who directed the film and co-wrote it with Sev Ohanian. The logistics and meticulous pre-production planning to get this done must have been a hellish Hercluean effort.
John Cho plays the father, and he's very good. I always like his work (particularly in the series Selfie with Karen Gillan), and he's very effective here. As terrific a job as he does, though, and as respectable a fan base as he has from being in the Star Trek movies, I think a unique film like this needs more of a Big Movie Star presence with starring-role credentials (someone like Colin Farrell, when he starred in the aforementioned Phone Booth) in order to help attract wide-attention an audience. This isn't to say that John Cho wasn't a good choice for the role -- indeed, he was an excellent choice -- just that I suspect the film's box office potential is limited. But the good thing about Searching is that even if you don't see it in a theater, it’s something that would play perfectly well on DVD – or streamed on one’s computer!
Here's the trailer. The movie is significantly better, since it takes its time cleverly laying all the pieces out in careful detail, building the story and ratcheting up the level stress, almost like a nightmare unfolding, while the trailer is trying to create a sense of instant, grab the audience, in-your-face, fast-paced tension. The movie isn't done in this "smash cut" way at all, but at least you get an idea from the trailer of how it all works
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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