Wednesday, September 12, 2018


                    command + shift + 3 ∞ (or, screen shots galore)

                                                                  Review by Ken Burke
                                  Searching (Aneesh Chaganty)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): This is a marvelously different (although not truly one of a kind, as there have been a few other attempts at such a presentational strategy) display of a plot shown only with what’s on computer screens as a father suddenly loses contact with his 16-year-old daughter (still pining after a couple of years for her Mom, lost to cancer), can’t find her anywhere, reports her to the police as a missing person, gets help from a female detective who’s also struggling to be a single parent for a teenager, slowly finds out through various social media interactions and contacts with her “friends” his daughter was a lot more isolated than he realized even as she was stashing cash away in a secret bank account, had a fake driver’s license, possibly has run away or maybe has some connection with another troubled teen the daughter’s been messaging on a Website.  To say anymore prior to your willingness to read the spoiler-filled review below is to give away essentials of a well-crafted plot which should be seen to be fully appreciated because of the successful manner in which it builds effective suspense through nothing but what we see in a rapid stream of high-tech/screen-generated images, possibly all seen from the father’s perspective (or at least the FaceTime camera that displays much of his activity or the surveillance cameras he’s set up in his home in an attempt to trick whom he thinks is his daughter’s abductor)Searching keeps expanding to additional theaters, so I actively encourage you to find it.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
(A few of these photos I'm using have the #SearchingMovie notation in the upper right,
but that's not part of the original screen image just a tag added to the PR still.)
What Happens: (Before reading this summary you need to understand the fullest experience of this film comes only from watching it, because not only are its images constantly on the move so it’s difficult to reduce them to words without getting even more lengthy than I already do but also these rapidly-changing-visuals are all shot from [or recorded maybe, then put into Internet sites, then recorded again, or maybe there's considerable postproduction to link photography and graphic material together, methodologies I can’t vouch for except Chaganty says this film took 1½ years to edit] various computer screens; you can get a sense of that from the trailer just above, but if this concept intrigues you I’d encourage tracking it down because it’s now in reasonably-wide-release, likely accessible at many locations.  OK, on with the plot points.)  Through a constant stream of computer-based family videos and photos (taking us from AOL to iMac), we meet the San Jose, CA (also the director's home, so there’s as good a sense of local presence here as we saw of nearby-Oakland in Blindspotting [Carlos López Estrada; review in our August 9, 2018 posting]) Kim family—David (John Cho), Pamela (Sara Sohn)—with a focus on their daughter Margot’s (Michelle La) previous 16 years (they’re now in 2017), during which Pam battles lymphoma into remission, then relapses to die in 2015, leaving David and Margot in a reasonably-close-relationship (within the bounds of normal teenage-aspiring-independence), until a crisis comes unexpectedly, close to the end of Margot’s current school year.  Through a hurried FaceTime interaction with Dad (he leaves his computer on in this mode much of the time, allowing us to view him just as the desktop’s camera does, otherwise with this film’s structure we’d rarely see him at all, making it much more difficult to relate to his ongoing anguish, mounting anger at the lack of progress in finding his missing daughter, as we witness the immediate sense of paranoia about what might have happenedas compared to the simmering-hatred in Mildred Hayes [Frances McDormand] over her daughter’s known rape/murder presented so magnificently in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [Martin McDonagh; review in our December 7, 2017 posting]), Margot says she’ll be at a friend’s house for an all-night-study-session prior to an upcoming final, but then we see 3 attempts by her at roughly 11pm to contact him, 3 on-screen-pings he doesn’t hear because he’s fast asleep.

 When David attempts to contact Margot the next day all he gets is her voicemail message, with his initial frustration at his daughter’s thoughtlessness (he’s also hounded her about dereliction of duty in not yet having taking out the kitchen garbage) giving way to his concern for her whereabouts, especially after the study-group-friend says Margot left about 9:30pm.  Now he’s really confused because she’s not at her piano lesson either, with the shocking news from the teacher she stopped 6 months ago, even though David kept giving her $100 weekly for the lessons.  After reporting Margot as a missing person, David’s contacted by highly-honored Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) who finds little of immediate use, although David’s frantic searches through his daughter’s many Internet presences reveals her “close” friends hardly knew her at all; she was supposed to join a camping trip she never showed up for; all that piano-class-cash was going into a secret bank account; she recently withdrew $2,500 from that bank; she’d acquired a fake driver’s license; she had frequent interactions on YouCast (A real site, although it seems more about sharing videos than the texting Margot was doing—but what do I know about such things? Very little.) with another teen, code name fish_n_chips, a waitress in a San Francisco North Bay city (Pittsburg) also dealing with a cancer-stricken-mother, now struggling for money; and loved to escape to nearby Barbosa Lake.  David and Det. Vick go searching at the lake, find Margot’s abandoned car in it (also the money, I guess in a waterproof pouch), but no other clues, that is until David picks up disturbing hints from text messages (by now he’s hacked into all of Margot’s accounts by requesting new passwords) between his brother, Peter (Joseph Lee), and Margo so he installs surveillance cameras in his home, invites Peter over in an attempt to trap him.  ⇒After a physical confrontation, Peter admits he secretly smoked pot with Margot but there was nothing else between them; he also confronts David with the harsh reality Margot was pulling away from Dad because he wouldn’t help her deal with her sorrow over Mom (mistakenly thinking she didn’t want to do so), with the main reason she quit the piano lessons being the sad memories it brought back of duets with Pamela.⇐

 Suddenly, David’s interrupted by a phone call from Det. Vick, telling him former convict Randy Cartoff (Ric Sarabia) confessed to murdering Margot in an online video, then committed suicide (meanwhile, Margot’s semi-friends are now all over social media with sentimental memories of her, simply enhancing their own status through these phony "tributes").  David agrees to allowing a local company to produce a memorial service for Margot but is shocked to see the promo photo for the business shows a woman who looks just like “fish_n_chips,” so some further searching reveals the image is of a model who knows nothing about Margot when David contacts her.  In attempting to reach Det. Vick with this news he learns she’s on her way to the memorial but also volunteered to oversee Margot’s case from the start.  More frantic Internet searching shows Vick in a group photo with Cartoff, which—apparently—is enough evidence for David to convince the police to show up at the memorial, arresting Vick.  Once in a while during Searching we actually go to a black screen so, thankfully, we get the sense the constant presence of the Internet actually is given a break from the lives of these characters, but soon enough we’re back in action, now with a computer feed of a local newscast (ABC, channel 7, although the local versions of NBC, CBS, and Fox are represented at times as well) where Det. Vick admits during interrogation how her son, Robert (Steven Michael Eich)—about whom she commiserated with David previously, noting the difficulty of being the single-parent of a teenager (at one point he’d scammed $25 donations from neighbors for a phony charity; rather than give the money back, admitting his guilt, she then actually founded such a group in order to put the stolen cash to positive use)—was secretly smitten with Margot, created the “fish_n_chips” identity to get close to her, accepted the $2,500 through digital transfer but felt guilty about it so arranged to meet her at the lake; sadly, she freaked out, they scuffled, he accidently pushed her off a cliff, called Mom.  Det. Vick, assuming Margot's death, sank the car in the lake, later directed the search away from where she knew the body to be, created Margot’s fake I.D., then coerced Cartoff into his false confession before killing him, making it look like a suicide.⇐

 All’s well that end’s well, though, because David realizes Vick was wrong in assuming Margot must have been dead from dehydration even if she survived the fall because she’d now been almost a week without water; he remembers there was a heavy rain 2 days into the search (presenting us with either a rare weak plot point because we saw this rain as well or it's just intense denial on Vick’s part, due to her frantic attempt to protect her son) so he’s soon back at the lake with a rescue team who find Margot badly injured, just barely alive.  In the quick wrap-up, we later find Margot awaiting a final answer on her college application to a music school to study piano along with interactions between her and David, indicating the familial bond’s strong once again.*⇐

*If you’d like another summary of what happens in this film with more visuals than I’m able to provide here, you might enjoy this video (11:34), although it’s more about the entire story than just the “ending explained,” as it promotes itself; there’s also this anatomy of a scene (2:15) narrated by co-screenwriter (with Sev Ohanian)/director Chaganty, explaining some of the complexity required to achieve this dynamic presentation of computer-screen-images, with so much of it needing to be created on real-appearing websites (hey, Russians, don’t get any new ideas!) or shot in a manner that doesn’t reveal the presence of the film’s camera when looking at the computer screen in which David’s actions are reflected back to him (and us) when he’s in his FaceTime mode.

So What? After watching this film I was immediately impressed with how the concept had been carried out with every image we see on the cinema screen shot from a computer screen (or made to look that way), along with appreciating the cleverness of the title, given how many searches David went through to find information he’d never known existed about Margot, then followed up with enough suspicion about Det. Vick to quickly lead us to her surprise involvement with Margot’s situation so that a plot which seemed to have quickly found a conclusion—putting to rest any concern Peter wasn’t fully truthful with David about  interactions with his niece—had a lot more to reveal as the true conclusion came racing to resolution.  What surprised me, though (uninformed cretin that I am when it comes to teenager-appealing-fright-stories), is Searching’s not as unique as I’d assumed in its use of total depiction of plot on computer screens, because I’d been completely unaware this tactic was also used (although, not in as full and creative a manner as in Searching, at least according to some younger commentators who know this territory better than I do) previously in Unfriended (Levan Gabriadze, 2014), a supernatural-horror-movie about teens haunted by a former classmate who was bullied, then committed suicide, followed by a sequel just released a couple of months ago (which I must have either completely missed or ignored, although I think I was at least marginally aware of the 2014 original), Unfriended: Dark Web (Stephen Susco); while I had no interest in either of these, the first one was successful financially, grossing $64.1 million worldwide (about half of that domestically [U.S.-Canada]) against a tiny $1 million budget, although the sequel’s pulled in only $9.6 million globally (almost all from domestic venues), although the critical response was marginal for both, with Rotten Tomatoes offering 63% positive reviews, Metacritic a 59% average score for the original, both declining for that recent sequel (RT 57% positive reviews, MC 53% average score)Searching’s topped both of those with critics, is moving fast toward beating the box-office results as well (more on both factors in the next section below).*

*Wikipedia reminds me another possible minor inspiration here could be Hardcore (Paul Schrader, 1979), also about a frantic father searching for his missing daughter, but in this case the teenager ends up in the porn industry, which she accepts for a time in rebellion against her conservative Christian father, none of which connects to the specific plot situations we encounter in Searching.

 Searching rushes at you so quickly you rarely have a chance during an initial viewing to keep up with/comprehend all of the information stacking up on David’s computer scree(at least we assume the images we’re seeing are either on his desktop, smartphone, or Margot’s laptop—which she conveniently left at home the night of her disappearance, allowing Dad to easily access her various social media accounts—but I suppose some of them [those without his presence] could belong to anyone who’s following this controversial story on local news/social media sites providing both narrative background [from Margot’s posts on her various interactive exchanges] and ongoing information/commentary [especially content of the computer-carried-local-news-broadcasts of developments/editorials on Margot’s situation while she’s missing, then found]) so I encourage you to visit the various sites on YouTube (probably other sources as well, maybe even the ones featured in the film where Apple, Google, FaceTime, YouCast, and other Internet presences get plenty of free plugs [for which they may well have helped support the making of this film, as none of what David finally learns about his more-estranged-than-he-ever-realized-daughter does anything to undermine the credibility of these online info/attitude-sharing-Web-businessesunlike the present concerns about how “fake news” manipulation on Facebook, Twitter, etc. from the Russians {no more denials, Vladimir!} is once again primed to disrupt the integrity, if not the final results, of the next round of national U.S. elections]) exploring the underlying complexity also buried in those images constantly rushing by us when watching this densely-conceived/constructed-film.  There’s a lot going on here that’s not only about the events of this narrative presented to us as a surprisingly-evolving-thriller but also a profound look at how much of our personal identities have been committed to worldwide public scrutiny on this interactive, global-reaching technology featuring the dual potential of undermining everything we think we know about ourselves (as Robert finds easy ways to manipulate Margot) as well as providing necessary help in solving seemingly-impenetrable mysteries because of the vast interconnections it used to take detectives months, if not years, to find answers to, if at all.  (Although clues can be deceiving as well, shown by the implications Det. Vick manufactured about Margot’s disappearance, first promoted as a runaway scenario, then a random death.  [Also, please note I've tried to make this paragraph as dense as the film's visuals for your benefit in appreciating the complexities of  Searching ... well, no, not really, that's just the way I write, but Mr. Chaganty and I seem to be on the same {Web?} page when it comes to info density.])

Bottom Line Final Comments: As noted above, critical response to Searching is very encouraging so far with a hearty 92% trove of positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes along with a 71% average score at Metacritic (better than it might sound, as their results often don’t go much higher, at least for releases both they and I have covered, although in reading through their reviews occasionally I must admit I find it difficult to understand how they come up the numbers they assign to those reviews prior to averaging them).  After 3 weeks in release, the box-office-results are coming along quite well also for Searching, with a worldwide total so far of about $33 million ($14.9 million of that from domestic markets), with theater presence increasing to about 2,000 domestically so the income’s likely to keep rising, although first the tech-savvy-younger-crowd—natural fans for this film—may first have to get their fill of the full-blown-supernatural-horror of The Nun (Corin Hardy), already up to $136.6 million worldwide ($57.3 million domestically), playing in almost 3,900 northern North American theaters in its debut weekend (despite critical distain [RT 26%, MC a surprisingly higher 46%], but it’s part of The Conjuring franchise, around since 2013, raking in roughly $250-300 million worldwide for each of the previous 4 installments, so I suppose there’s a built-in-audience)—a situation I witnessed directly at my hometown Hayward, CA cineplex last Friday when there was a decent response for Searching (a good number of them seemingly Asian-Americans, maybe responding to Cho‘s rare starring role, maybe already seen Crazy Rich Asians [Jon M. Chu; review in our August 30, 2018 posting], now up to $165.6 million globally [about $137 million domestically] after a month in release) but nowhere near those long lines awaiting The Nun.  

 However, even with the older Unfriended movie possibly providing some presentational-inspiration for Chaganty’s approach to Searching (although I’ve yet to encounter such an admission from him), what you get in this latest shot-from-computer-screens-experiment is a marvelous improvement (based on what I’ve read about these earlier horror movies) over the old found-footage-concept that’s simply technologically-updated itself from The Blair Witch Project (Eduardo Sánchez and Kevin Foxe, 1999) approach, providing us now with a fascinating inundation of screen-images, often piling up information so quickly we have a difficult time keeping up with all that might be there to intrigue us.  (If, like me, you see this film but still don’t catch all there is to amuse/fascinate you with the avalanche of background inclusions/references, you might benefit from a quick tutorial as found in the second link to this film in the Related Links section of this posting a bit farther below.)

 Regular readers of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark (who’re patiently waiting to read something—anything—from the “other guy,” Pat Craig, who’s still getting his thoughts together after almost 7 years this blog’s been in existence [but, Pat, I feel you're almost ready]know my reviews usually end with a Musical Metaphor, in which I attempt (with varying degrees of success) to offer one last perspective on the subject at hand from my equally-embraced-love of the aural arts, although with Searching I haven’t come up with anything nearly as serious as the disappearance-drama on screen (the second song just below does feature dancers with animal heads but even they don’t seem to be threatening); yet, what I've finally decided on at least directly addresses the concepts of “searching” and “looking for clues,” so maybe you'll accept these tunes as appropriate for the lighthearted sense we get at the end of this film rather than being representative of its tension-filled-main-body.  If not, feel free to recommend something else(in the Comments section of this posting far, far below); in the meantime, my official Musical Metaphors for Searching are "Searching’" from The Coasters (on their 1957 album The Coasters [likely on a good number of “greatest hits” compilations as well]) at pl%2Cwn (a 1960 TV performance hosted by Dick Clark—but not American Bandstand—which I’ve chosen from several options because the 4 singers in this clip are the ones inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame as The Coasters: lead singer Carl Gardner, Billy Guy on baritone vocals, Will “Dub” Jones on bass vocals, Cornell Gunter on tenor vocals; however, you might also be interested in the original recording with Gardner and Guy but at the time the other members were Billy Nunn [bass] and Leon Hughes [tenor], along with guitarist Adolph Jacobs) where these singers (in a more upbeat-attitude than you’ll find in most of this film) are determined they’re “Gonna find her [because the main man’s been] searchin’ every which a-way [… but] like the Northwest Mounties You know I’ll bring her in someday [… because] if I have to swim a river You know I will And if I have to climb a mountain You know I will,” a perfect characterization of David, determined to somehow find Margot.

 But, if that song’s just too old for you, I’m willing to get a little bit more contemporary (But not into the 21st century, heavens no!  At least with music ... maybe.), using Robert Palmer’s “Looking for Clues” (from his 1980 album Clues) at where this singer also seems to pick up on certain aspects of Searching when he notes he’s “frightened by the sound of the telephone […] I’m worried that the caller might have awful news” […like David whenever he gets disturbing updates about Margot because] Who knows these days where on earth the money [$2,500] goes [… then, directly addressing Margot, he could say] You keep insisting that nobody showed you how to keep good relationships, oh yeah Your daddy made a real good try, oh my [… but then it all went bad so] I’m looking for clues [… because] Nobody’s gonna give you the benefit of the doubt, oh my Everytime I pick a paper up [or check a Website, in today’s society] it’s harder to believe the news, oh yeah [as Margot’s disappearance went viral on social media there were even posts accusing David of being her killer, yet he furiously maintains his focus…] I’m never in the dark ‘cause my heart keeps me well informed [... maybe those animal dancers give him reason to believe in fantastic finales] I’m convinced that there’s a way of getting through to you [as he never gives up searching the vast Internet for another insight which might finally be what he needs to solve his heartbreaking-misery].”  Ultimately, all the searching pays off because, as The Coasters promised, “No matter where she’s a-hiding [or lying incapacitated, as the case may be …] You know I’ll bring her in some day.”  David went through hell to get his daughter back—just as Det. Vick was swallowed up in her own hell in the process of  protecting her wayward son—giving us a fascinating mystery presented in a method speaking to our current obsessions with finding “truth” (or something conveniently like it) in those vast cyber-resources of the Internet.  

 If you’re of my could-have-been-grandchildren’s age (had I ever gone through the challenge of first having, then raising children) or you’re as old as me (70, still in motion for awhile if all goes well) I think you’d find Searching to be a marvelous, magical, mystery tour (OK, what the hell, here’s another [mostly unrelated] Metaphor from The Beatles [on the 1967 album of the same name as the song], my all-time-favorites), so I encourage you to “search” out Searching soon, just as I hope to search out more than one film worthy of both my time and yours (although I’ve stayed busy with some great Netflix oldies) when next you return for more fine inspiration from Two Guys in the Dark. 
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Searching: (10:25 exploration of major Easter Eggs in this film [lots of interesting barely-noticed details, including some speculations about an alien presence in the background of this film])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 4,683 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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