Searching: Social Media in Cinema

Searching (2018)

Director – Aneesh Chaganty

Writer – Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian

Starring –  John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La

Rating – PG-13

Genre – Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Metascore – 72/100

Rotten Tomatoes – 91%

Searching is the directorial debut for short film director Aneesh Chaganty. This story follows the mystery of a father trying to find his missing daughter and is ripe with twists and turns. Chaganty takes on the social media format that is becoming prevalent in the horror/thriller genre: for example, Unfriended (2014) and Friend Request (2016). Both of these movies were just as awful as their names. Thankfully, even with a poor name, Searching breaks the pattern with creative editing and a great script.

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As a social media movie, Searching is confined to the screen of a computer for the entirety of the movie, operating through FaceTime, iMessage, and Windows XP. This choice limits the ability to craft entertaining cinematography and editing. However, Chaganty incorporates slow pans across the computer screen to bring tension; whether that is panning to a text that reveals a new lead in the search, or to a reaction via the FaceTime camera. Accomplishing tension in a rigid, stationary template is a massive feat of filmmaking. Even though each of us operates on smartphones everyday and knows what each screen looks like, because of careful framing and excellent acting each scene feels fresh and tense. This is the key to Searching’s success.

John Cho (Father) and Debra Messing (Detective) were two lone figures limited to a laptop’s front-facing camera and they were fantastic. Both of their performances, even with such limitations, bolstered this movie’s realistic nature. Although they performed well, I think that Chaganty could have left more room for human error in his storytelling and operation of the computers displayed. You won’t find any misspellings, or quick mouse movements. While sometimes intentional to build tension, other times it dragged the pacing of the movie out and stole from its authenticity. There will always be complications with a movie confined to the display of a computer screen but Chaganty has shown his apt ability in this form.

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Searching could have and probably should have been a short film. The plot and execution of this story felt a bit strung out and left the audience with one or two more twists than needed. By the end of the story, it was close to exhausting. I wouldn’t say it failed in this category, but was it was one misstep from throwing the whole tone of the film into the recycle bin. Aside from that, the screenplay was compelling, intense and unpredictable. It fit perfectly into its PG-13 rating.

Most people probably see this trailer and push it aside because of the form, but Chaganty delivers as best as one could with the limitations. It was a joy to see a creative new spin in the genre and to see a director go to great lengths to bring me closer to a story with something as familiar as my own phone.

Author: Jesse Ingram

499 Rating: 7 / 10