Searching is in my top three of the year. I saw it at Sundance and thought it was extraordinary. We’ve seen cheap horror movies on computer screens. The reason Searching works is that it would work as a mystery without the computer screen. The computer screen is just a natural environment because we’re so used to these devices in our lives now.
Most mysteries can probably only lay in one clue per scene, maybe two in a clever set design. Searching can hide several in the background of a single computer screen as David Kim (John Cho) desperately looks for clues to his missing daughter Margot (Michelle La)’s whereabouts.
On the big screen, the computer screen disappeared after 10 minutes. On Blu-ray, it’s still bigger than most of our monitors and up close in our homes, it almost sucks us into the screen. Some of these screens are so packed with images and chat boxes, each one is detailed enough to zoom in on.
Chat/text and email backgrounds are an almost blinding white (to be fair my TV is set for bright colorful movies. My computer is set for typing.) The text is alive as it is driving the movie. In a way, the text sequences are more vivid than the scenes of the actors on video.
What’s cool is YouTube footage of news reports and broadcast anchors are higher definition than grainier FaceTime and other video apps. Since there are home videos of the family from the past decade you can even tell they’re of an older, lower grade technology than the modern footage, which has its own varying degrees of image quality depending on what app we’re viewing through. Normally lower grade footage is a bummer on Blu-Ray but in Searching it’s relevant to the plot.
With so many shots of the actors looking directly in camera, you get to see all the subtleties in their emotionally wrought performances. Cho gives a tour de force and Debra Messing is strong as the detective assigned to the case, who ultimately has to reign David in. La is heartbreaking in her video scenes that pop up during David’s search.
Director Aneesh Chaganty and writer/producer Sev Ohanian’s commentary is scene specific. One fun aspect is they point out background details on the screen that will pay off later. Because these screens are so full of information, there’s a whole other movie going on if you know where to look. There are also inside jokes they point out and they’re so clever they just make me love Searching more.
Behind the scenes you see a bit of the editors constructing the movie with web page animation and chat captures before any footage was shot. There’s a little bit of set footage of setting up those chat screen shots so you get a small sense of how complicated each simple dialogue box. I mean, it’s less than 20 minutes of featurettes but they spent months, over a year, painstakingly designing every frame of Searching. They did such a fantastic job that I was sucked into the mystery and consider it one of the year’s most extraordinary films.