At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Searching “2018”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Searching “2018”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Mystery Thriller/Stars: John Cho, Debra Messing, Michelle La, Kya Dawn Lau, Megan Liu, Alex Jayne Go, Sara Sohn, Joseph Lee, Steven Michael Eich, Ric Sarabia, Sean O’Bryan, Colin Woodell, Thomas Barbusca/Runtime: 102 minutes

I think it is a fairly safe statement to make dear reader that the bond between cinema and various bits of technology has always been one that has proven beneficial to the utmost degree possible between the two parties. This is because not only are we as viewers quite often treated to novel and intriguing ways for people to interact with cinema, but globally altering developments in technology can also make an impact on just how a film helmer regales us with a specific narrative that they have cooked up for us. Perhaps one of the finest examples I can think of the latter category that I have seen here lately is the rise of what I would like to christen screen cinema. A slice of cinema that’s narrative is one that unfolds before us entirely on a tech screen be it on a TV, a cellular device, or even a personal computer. Perhaps the first one of these that I can recall seeing was in 2015 with the movie Unfriended. A slice of cinema that played out entirely on a computer screen, took the concept of “karmic retribution”, and then presented it in a way that would definitely make one think twice before posting that ridiculous video from last night’s like totalllyyy insane partyyyyy. Yet as ridiculous as that one turned out to be, I can safely say that this is most certainly not the case with the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2018’s Searching. Indeed based on an original idea by helmer/co-scribe Aneesh Chaganty and fellow co-writer Sev Ohanian, here is a slice of cinema that engages a computer not just as a means to communicate with other people, but also as a way to investigate things and then proceeds to utilize them both in order to sculpt for all of us a mystery slice of cinema revolving around a young woman who mysteriously goes missing, her slightly estranged father’s dedicated quest to try and locate her, and the things he learns about his daughter along the way. Is it a perfect slice of cinema? Nope. At the same time though, there is no denying that this is quite the engaging film to sit through. Suffice it to say it might not be flawless and it might not be an outright cinematic game changer in many respects, but with the terrific work done both behind and in front of the camera, Searching still proves to be a taut cinematic ride that shows that, should the land of movie magic be willing to put in the work, there is still quite a bit of exciting potential to be found in this cinematic cave waiting to be mined and presented to a intrigued audience

The plot is as follows: Getting underway via the sound of a dial-up connection (never thought I would hear that sound again) warming up, Searching gets its riveting story underway by swiftly introducing us to the Kim family, but in particular family patriarch David. David, we rather quickly learn is a devoted single father who, despite his best attempts, has seen his relationship with his teen daughter Margot get a wee bit on the sour side since her mother Pam tragically passed on from cancer. Suffice it to say then that it isn’t that much a spoiler to reveal to you that this pair clearly doesn’t have the bond that they used to, and that things are about to get a lot worse. This is because one night Margot heads out to go participate in a study session with some friends…..only to never come back home. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that panic quickly makes itself apparent with our doting dad here and, with his only possible clues as to where she may have gone or what might have happened to her being a few missed video calls from Margot the night before, we soon see the police get involved as a result of Margot finally officially being declared a missing person. Yet, despite both constant reassurance as well as being permitted to aid the investigation in certain ways by the detective who has been put in charge of the case, we see that our intrepid hero isn’t content with that. Rather, he decides to get his hands on his daughter’s laptop and utilize it to begin his own little covert look into the case on his own. Yet it isn’t long before whilst immersing himself in his daughter’s social media profiles, the videos she posted, what web sites she has been to, and the chats she has had with assorted people online that our hero begins to put two and five together and realize something. Namely that his precious little girl had a whole life she never ever let him in on. Thus with the clock ticking and the possibility of his daughter being found alive getting less and less likely as the days go by, can our hero find the information that he needs to not only learn what happened to his daughter, but who is the party behind her mysterious disappearance? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off the bat, I guess I should point out that it would not astonish me in even the least if, based off the trailers or even the fact that this slice of cinema occurs on computer screens, if you had already made the choice to give this slice of cinema the cold shoulder. With that being said though, I would like to take a moment to politely urge you to reconsider on that. That’s because even though the narrative and the gimmick that this slice of cinema are not novel by any stretch of the imagination, this is one film where the end result is definitely better than some of the parts that it is operating with. With that in mind, it should be noted that the work done behind the camera here is actually fairly brilliant to an extent. This, in the mind of this reviewer, starts with the fantastic script that this film is operating with. Indeed, it really says something when a narrative told exclusively through technology is able to give us as movie goers quite a vast range of pathos and emotion from the tragic opening all the way to genuinely thrilling, quite understandable moments of drama between father and daughter, and even some genuinely comedic moments as well respectively. Even more phenomenal than that though is that this slice of cinema never lets you in on when these emotions will be hurled your way thus leaving you waiting with anticipation to see what comes next. Besides that though, I think the element that really makes this film’s script as intelligent as it is isn’t the fact that it constructs for us a fictional world, but in how it gives us just the right number of hints to let us construct our own theories about what happened only to then reveal the truth in a way that is really well-done. Indeed, more than a lot of other slices of cinema, this one really does embrace the idea that we are all amateur detectives when it comes to films like this. To that end, the creative team behind this film does a wonderful job at not only constructing scenarios that they are aware will activate our preconceived notions, but they also lead us along by operating on the common belief that we as people always expect the worst possible scenario in a situation like this thus allowing them to keep certain things close to the vest until they’re ready to reveal them. Of course, it should also be said that the creative choice to have this slice of cinema’s mystery unfurl for us through the very technology that has become such a firm fixture on our day to day lives also does a wonderful job of reinforcing this slice of cinema’s insightful themes about both personal ties as well as the pitfalls and advantages that are intricately tied to technology. Yet whereas some film helmers might find themselves tied down by having to operate with such a distinct framework, we see that this film’s helmer never does feel such restraints. Instead, he manages to do a masterful job of ensuring that both the film remains consistently riveting throughout whilst also incorporating some delightful tricks into the mix to ensure that, despite its core narrative hook being quite run of the mill, that the overall film is able to give off the vibe of being both distinct and creative.

Of course, the other big component that needs to work for a slice of cinema to function on the level that it aspires to would have to be the performances given by the cast in front of the camera. Thankfully, I can say that is not a problem that this film is saddled with in any way as the collection of on-screen talent actually manage to do really good work with their respective parts. This starts with John Cho in the lead role of David and honestly if all you really know about Cho is either his work as Sulu in the rebooted Star Trek films, Harold from the Harold and Kumar trilogy, or even one-half of the MILF duo from the American Pie franchise then prepare yourself because I’m not exaggerating here, but I think the work he does here is easily one of the best performances that this genuinely talented actor has ever seen fit to give us as movie goers. Indeed I can safely say that you do not need to be among the ranks of that distinct group known as “parents” in order to be able to relate to this character and the circumstances he has been put through both before and during this nightmare as Cho does an incredible job at portraying both a character and also his sheer desperation at what is unfurling before him and not having the slightest idea of what to do or even what to expect. Yet, in the eyes of this reviewer, the thing that makes Cho’s performance here even more phenomenal is the fact that this slice of cinema not only gives him a chance to showcase various facets to who this guy is, but also shows him engaging in some things that might be a bit on the morally shady side thus causing all of us to engage in some serious internal debate as to how exactly we would handle the situation if we found ourselves having to go through it. Be that as it may be, there is no denying that this is truly potent leading man work from Cho and truthfully, I hope he gets more opportunities like this because he definitely has what it takes to carry a movie as a lead rather than as merely part of an ensemble or duo. Now, due in large part to this film putting a lot of concentration on David’s dilemma and personal hunt for his daughter, this movie’s support cast may not have as much to do, but they all still do fairly potent work with their respective roles in this. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was Debra Messing who, as the lead cop investigating the case Rosemary Vic, brings a wonderfully tough authority vibe to the mix whilst also operating as a delightful counterpoint to Cho’s steadily growing more and more worried David. We also see that Joseph Lee does good in his deceptively layered part of David’s slacker brother Peter. Now you should know that although Michelle La does good in the pivotal role of Margot, she also is operating here less as a full character and more as a human enigma that we are meant to decipher alongside her dad as the film goes on. Suffice it to say then that, in terms of the work being done in front of the camera, every single one of the main cast members knew the assignment and what was being asked from them and as a result all of them manage to give truly terrific performances no matter how big or small their role in the grand scheme of things may be.

All in all is Searching a perfect slice of cinema? No, but that’s only because of a few issues here and there to say nothing of one teeny tiny little bit of disbelief stretching at the end that, without going into spoilers, did prove to be too much for my own personal sense of disbelief to handle. At the same time though, is this a bad slice of cinema that deserves to toil away for the rest of its existence in the infamous 5-dollar bin at your local Walmart Supercenter or Best Buy? Oh heck no! In fact, if you were to find this in there then I would advise you to scoop it up right away because that’s a true diamond in the rough right there! I say that not just because the cast in front of the camera does great work and not just because the team behind the camera does a brilliant job in bringing this story to life in a way that not a lot of movies have done before. Rather, I say that because at the end of the day this is a slice of cinema that does a fantastic job at showcasing just how much disjointed we are as people by giving us a narrative that is set through the very technological advancements that had promised to “unite and bring us all just a bit closer together than we already were”. More than that though, this is one tale that also shows us the various components of what makes up modern day humanity to an extent from the messages we start to write only to get rid of and then retype to those pictures and videos we share with the world wide web that are designed to present “our best versions of ourselves”, but may in fact be operating as cyberspace masks to hide the truth about us for good or for ill.  Suffice it to say then that if you are in the mood for a riveting mystery and can either get past or on board with the gimmick that this film is operating with then please I implore you to give this slice of cinema a chance. I promise you might find quite a bit to be riveted by. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Searching “2018” a solid 4 out of 5.