The new mystery-thriller Searching is probably a bit better than it has any right to be, given that it’s the latest in what seems like a series of movies where almost all of the action takes place on computer screens.
Most of those earlier movies were just schlock horror or slasher films, with teenagers staring into webcams as something very frightening pops up on the screen. This seems like a fine way to make a movie if your goal is to keep the budget low, but it doesn’t seem like a very reliable way to turn your savings into a high quality film.
Thankfully, though, Searching roots itself far more in the real world and incorporates all of the on-screen computer use organically into its story. It’s not so much a gimmick as it is reflective of something a person might actually do. The movie stars John Cho as the father of a high school girl who goes missing one night after a study group at another student’s house. Cho calls the police, of course, but he also gets to work trying to piece together just what might have happened to his daughter by logging on to her computer, cleverly stealing some passwords, and investigating every inch of her social media accounts. Naturally, what he finds is not what he expects, and off we go.
Searching doesn’t exactly build Hitchcockian suspense, though there are tiny whiffs of Rear Window in there, but it does seem to understand that computer screens are inherently anxiety-inducing, as we fracture our train of thought by clicking from one screen to the next, then back to the first, scrolling and scrolling, looking for who knows what… and who among us hasn’t felt the crushing dread of having to deal with too many open tabs?
I don’t feel like Searching resolves itself in a super satisfying way, and I spotted the bad guy about as quickly as possible, but the movie is very clever about how it uses its limitations, and it’s always fun to see filmmakers work around that kind of thing. Ultimately, it’s among the very best of this genre of computer screen thrillers, and I’ll leave it up to you to decide how much you think that means.