Monday, August 10, 2020

REVIEW: Searching (live action movie)

Searching is a mystery/thriller movie. I bought my copy brand new.


This movie is a technology's eye view of its characters - everything happens on a screen. It starts with family movie video clips and searches that paint a picture of Margot Kim's life: her childhood and the years up to her mother's eventual death from lymphoma. Almost two years later, Margot's relationship with her father, David, has deteriorated. They still talk to each other, but not about anything important. This becomes a problem when David wakes up one day to find that he missed three calls from Margot. 

He doesn't think anything of it, at first, but he gradually comes to the realization that she's missing. A detective is assigned to help find her, and David quickly finds out that he knows almost nothing about what was really going on in Margot's life. But he has her laptop, and he's determined to chase every lead it gives him if that's what it takes.

This was the best FMV game I've never played. Really, that's what this movie reminded me of, games like Her Story, #WarGames, and Telling Lies. I was genuinely surprised that FMV games were never once mentioned in the "making of" extras as the inspiration for this movie's storytelling gimmick - every time the director/writer talked about how something like this had never been done before, I wondered if he just hadn't played games like that before.

Anyway, there have been times when I've wished that certain FMV games were actually movies, so this movie was a little like getting that wish granted. No need to fumble around with gameplay mechanics or the annoyance of having to watch the same clips over and over again in an effort to unlock something new - just sit back and watch. And for the most part it worked surprisingly well. It turns out that you can communicate a lot of emotion in the way a cursor is moved, or a person's typing speed, or what they choose to send vs. delete. 

Unfortunately, the director was overly committed to this gimmick, to the occasional detriment of the movie's believability. Viewers had to accept that all these characters basically lived their lives in front of constantly on webcams, and the way the news covered the search (live cams at scenes where a body might potentially be found, for example) was positively ghoulish. There's a bit in the extras where the director, Aneesh Chaganty, said that John Cho recommended they switch to traditional camera techniques at the very end, and although Chaganty rejected this idea (sticking to the "everything is via screens" idea was apparently cooler), I agreed with Cho. Not only would it have given everyone a brief break from the limitations of the format, it would also would have been a better fit for the way the character relationships changed.

Still, it was an interesting way to convey the story, and there were even some unexpectedly funny moments. I enjoyed David's efforts to figure out livestreaming, for example. John Cho was excellent as David, I really wanted to know how Margot's story would turn out, and there were a few great WTF moments near the end. I just wish the director had been a tiny bit less wedded to his storytelling gimmick.


Several featurettes: "Searching for Easter eggs," "Changing the language of film," and "Update username: cast and characters" - about 25 minutes total, and all really worth watching (even if parts of it made me wonder whether Chaganty knew FMV games existed). If I were the sort of person to rewatch movies and pause at every little detail, the Easter egg extra, in particular, would have made me want to restart the film and go hunting. But I'm not, so I'll leave that to someone else. The alien invasion aspect did tempt me, though.

My disc also came with a filmmaker's commentary, which I opted not to listen to.

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