Harper Watched: Searching

Harper Watched is an ongoing series where I talk about movies, tv, and live theater shows I've seen. Check out more Harper Watched for ideas on what to see next.

  via    Sony

via Sony

I have been excited for Searching ever since it hit my radar early this year. John Cho is a fantastic performer and the film has received nothing but great reviews since I first heard about it during Sundance. As a Korean American, a former teen, "digital native," and a true crime enthusiast, I have been so excited to see this thriller. Check out the trailer here. It's playing in theaters now.

This review (as usual) is spoiler free!

The Plot

David Kim is a dad doing his best to raise his daughter, Margot. Margot is a high school student, a pianist, and a pretty normal kid in general. She tells her father she'll be out late studying and David goes to sleep before she comes home. That night while he is asleep, she tries to call him three times in a row. He misses all those calls and in the morning, concern builds as she hasn't returned any of his messages. He finds a few leads and tries to put his fears to rest, but when his last one turns into a dead end, he's left with a devastating fact: It's been 36 hours, and no one knows where Margot is.

He files a missing persons report, and while the police do the legwork on the ground, the detective assigned to him suggests he find out as much as he can about Margot to help them piece together what happened. David digs through her laptop and social media to try and figure out where she might be, but his search for answers turns into more questions as it becomes evident that he didn't really know his daughter at all. We follow his search for answers and his daughter in this taut technology-centered thriller.

Getting Down To Business

The entire film is told through computer and phone screens, a choice that for me feels very real and human (perhaps surprisingly) because it's reflective of how I live my life-- with my technology as my partner. It's well executed and feels authentic rather than gimmicky. Having just had to do some similar things on a computer of a recently deceased family member to settle some affairs, I felt very plugged into this world of digital sleuthing. If you are anywhere near as connected to your phone or laptop as I am, you'll get this film. 

The story is intense, taut, and gripping. The first 15 minutes or so of the film takes you through David's life as a father and shifts into a bit about Margot's life as a teen, as told through video clips, calendar notifications, emails, etc. before the main action starts, and similar to Disney Pixar's Up, this introduction quickly and effectively covers a lot of narrative ground and raises the stakes for the viewer. It also effectively establishes the tech-based storytelling as a valid, effective, and powerful medium, dispelling concerns about the execution of this device. 

This film doesn’t just benefit from the connection we have to our devices— it criticizes it as well. Oftentimes good films about heady matters complicate our understanding of things rather than simplify them. Not only is the computer David’s main source of leads and connection— it’s also his biggest source of paranoia, red herrings, and abuse from other humans. As much as technology and our access to it can help us, it can also hurt us. I’m glad this film took that stance because very often in crime media we see technology presented as this savior to all our investigative problems and that’s not always the case.

Like any good thriller should, this film gets under your skin. It pulls you out of your seat and into moments of high anxiety along side David. The audiences reacts together and you'll find yourself wanting to yell at the screen at some points. This film will have you clenching your fists.

Moreover, this is a film about a father and a daughter. I love father daughter movies (I'm a daughter who loves my father!!) and this is a really great example of one. We see John Cho being extremely Dad, having difficulty navigating his daughter's digital life, and coming to grips with the fact that not only does his daughter have a life outside his view, but that he’s made some mistakes that he can only hope to have the opportunity to redeem. For Margot.

Overall I highly recommend this film, but recommend seeing it with a friend because it’s pretty nerve-wracking, and you’ll want someone to debrief with about it. Don’t go into this film if you’re on edge and having a bad time, because it’ll take you on a ride for sure.

Harper’s Rating: 5/5

Pros:

  • John Cho + Korean American family at the center.

  • Great use of what I was afraid was going to be a gimmicky device.

  • Excellent thriller that has you on edge.

  • Smart. Well-written. Funny at points in a relatable way.

  • Realistic portrayals of cybersleuthing and dads having trouble with technology.

  • Great father-daughter story.

Cons:

  • If you are having a hard time with anxiety, take some extra steps to ensure you don’t have a terrible time. It really is nerve-wracking!

  • If you are not someone who uses social media or are not very adept at computers you may find yourself not connecting as well. I think my parents would have a very different experience watching this film than I would— still a good one, but very different. Part of the charm of the film is the familiarity of the computers and devices.