Searching (2018)

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty

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Searching combines the stylistic premise of Unfriended with a prologue as emotionally taxing as Up and a sensational, dramatic kidnapping story with the twists and turns of Gone Girl.  The movie’s hook, that it’s a story told entirely through computer screens, at times stretches believability (do you really FaceTime the detective tracking your daughter’s kidnapping) but helps perpetuate the idea that we are our truest, darkest selves online.

The story, unlike Unfriended, is told across multiple laptops and platforms.  The only consistency is that we’re tracking this tale through a screen of some sort, but the different computers allow for slightly different vantage points of the action as it unfolds. When David Kim (John Cho) finally accesses his daughter’s computer, in a search for clues, we suddenly see a completely different side of Margot (Michelle La).  It’s not that this filter allows us to see others as nothing more than avatars (a la Unfriended) but that we are given a chance to see one person as nothing more than that avatar only to then peek behind the curtain.  Somewhere in that gap is the divide between who we are in person, online and who we are deep in the privacy of our own homes.

David will search through his daughter’s Facebook page, her Tumblr, Instagram and, most notably, a website I had never heard of in which you can livestream yourself and keep the files archived.  These are moments of extreme intimacy between Margot and a stranger (by the name of “fish_n_chips”) online, and despite the incredible distance between the two people on opposite sides of a keyboard they act as small confessionals.  The things Margot tells this thin veneer of a person are things she won’t even tell her father.

The detective assigned to Margot’s case is Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing), and from the start we know there’s something a little off about her.  This isn’t just because of her stoic demeanor, which can be explained by the nature of her work, but by a quick sequence in which David looks her up online to find out more information.  His behavior isn’t out of the ordinary for someone in his situation, but because you’ve probably seen many, many movies before you know that such screen time is a valuable commodity and to devote that much of it to this character is a set up of some kind, whether to be paid off or subverted in the end.

There are a series of other suspects, including Margot herself in the possibility that she may have run away, as some clues suggest.  This makes David doubt everything he knows about his daughter, and it all adds to the central idea that no one is exactly who they say they are.  In small, every day examples we can see this online, of course, making the movie’s style of shooting more than just a gimmick.  People lie to get attention, mostly, and they exaggerate the truth for other petty reasons.  While none of this is malicious, it feels quite authentic to real life, and it’s the kidnapping story which in a sense satirizes and certainly emphasizes these facades we construct around ourselves and behind our keyboards.

Up Next: Green Book (2018), White Rock (1977), Roma (2018)

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