Saturday, September 1, 2018

'Searching' Review: The "Computer Screen as Film" Genre is Alive and Kicking

If you had told me even just a couple of years ago that there would be movies playing in theaters nationwide that were basically long computer screen-captures, I probably would have thought you were insane. But here were are in 2018, already a handful of movies down this rabbit hole, and there's no signs of stopping.

Searching is a film, starring John Cho as David Kim, whose daughter goes missing after a study group one night. Even after a formal investigation begins to move forward, David takes it upon himself to do an investigation of his own by going through Margot's life on social media to try to uncover clues for himself.

Searching is by far the best film to come out of this new and growing trend of computer screens as cinema, and as far as I'm concerned it's the first movie to actually understand and implement modern computer usage correctly.

Hollywood has a long and storied history of not understanding how technology works. All it takes is one look at most movies that involve a "hacker" doing some "hacking" to understand that. And who could forget the classic Nelly music video for his smash hit 'Dilemma' wherein which featured artist Kelly Rowland texts the singer using Microsoft Excel on a Nokia flip phone.

It's actually quite incredible that it has taken so damn long for filmmakers to finally grasp even the basics of technology. But Searching doesn't just treat the understanding of technology as a chore, it actually seems to hold quite a bit of reverence for the history of the internet and computers. In its opening montage, there are numerous things that are sure to pull on your long forgotten nostalgia strings, and give you a good chuckle.

A lot of that might seem supplementary to some, but it's the kind of detail work that I really appreciate in film. As someone that has basically grown up on computers and the internet, too often do I have to suspend my disbelief when watching someone in a movie tap away on a keyboard to do something on a computer screen that is clearly something that is accomplished with a mouse. But I digress.

Searching is largely a one man show for John Cho, and I can't think of an actor better suited for the job. A lot of the acting here, since it takes place in FaceTime calls and the like, is done directly into camera. So suddenly the one thing you're never suppose to do as an actor is literally the one thing you must do. I'm sure it's more challenging than it sounds, and Cho hits it out of the park.

What Cho really nails in this film is the feeling of helplessness as the parent of a missing child. There's only so much he can do as a civilian, and so he begins to look for, and ultimately find clues in places that there aren't any. This chasing of red herrings leads to some of the most tense and interesting scenes in the film. And this is a tense movie. My entire body was basically one giant clenched muscle for the duration of the film's runtime.

Debra Messing is also another major player in the film as Detective Vick, the officer assigned to Margot's case. As much as I'd love to give Messing credit for taking the rare leap into a dramatic role, her scenes are ultimately the weakest in the movie. She seems to have fallen into the trapping that Cho thankfully avoids, where she isn't quite sure how to act right into the camera. It's a whole other world, and this type of work is still in its infancy, so I don't think the blame is all on her.

And it's worth mentioning that it is so fantastic that this film, lead by a Korean-American man, is coming out right on the heels of Crazy Rich Asians' success. Crazy Rich Asians is still #1 at the box office in its third weekend, and Searching (as of Friday's estimates) in at #3 at the box office, which is just incredible. Further proof that studios no longer need to be afraid to not have a white movie star at the forefront of their movie.

Searching is ultimately a movie that is pretty difficult to talk about in-depth without giving away crucial plot points. But of the three releases I've seen over this weekend, this is probably the best, and thankfully also the most accessible. So, if you have to see anything this weekend, Searching would be your best bet.

I give Searching a 3.5 out of 5. It's in theaters nationwide.