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Searching •••

Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee
Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Screenplay: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Drama/Mystery/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: August 31, 2018


(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Search no more, Greg. We’ve found this next movie to review.

I’m searching for a reason to recommend this film, but I’m getting a 404 error. Let’s recap.

We meet David Kim (John Cho), a single father living in California with his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La). David isn’t as close to Margot as he used to be, as neither of them have truly gotten over the death of Margot’s mom a couple years earlier. One night Margo goes to a friend’s house to study for school, but she never comes home. The next morning David sees that she had tried to call in the middle of the night. Soon David reports her as a missing person to the police.

Enter Detective Vick (Debra Messing). She advises David to get in touch with Margot’s friends online and try to learn as much as he can about who might know something. What he finds is alarming – she’s been skipping piano lessons for the last 6 months, she’s been eating lunch alone, she’s opened a bank account where she’s stashed thousands of dollars of piano lesson money, and just before she went missing, took out a cash withdrawal of $2500. David is devastated by the fact that he didn’t know his daughter after all.

Greg, the summer of 2018 will go down as the summer of uncomfortable movies for fathers of teenage children. First there was Eighth Grade, a film about a father unable to do anything to help his daughter struggle with finding herself and fitting in. With Searching, we have a continuation of this theme, only now the stakes are much higher. Searching does an outstanding job of capturing a father’s agony over the possibility that his daughter has been killed. We feel especially bad for our hero because he’s already lost his wife to cancer, a fact that made me confident that we’d eventually find Margot alive. The film couldn’t possibly have ended with David completely alone, whimpering on the floor in the fetal position.

For me, Searching is the consummate mystery-thriller movie. The film is tense, emotionally powerful, and uncomfortable to watch – but in a good way from an entertainment perspective. By first telling us that our hero David lost his wife to cancer, the storytellers make sure we like our hero even before he encounters the crisis of his missing daughter. To further heighten our support for him, David not only has to search his daughter’s social media accounts for clues about her disappearance, he also has to overcome the villainous detective in charge of the investigation. Not to mention David’s sleazy brother and countless deceptive social media users. All this makes us identify and pull for David to do the impossible and find Margot.

This film won’t age well; in a few years, we’ll be mocking the technology in same the way that we mock the use of technology in films from the early 2000s such as You’ve Got Mail. Another possible flaw in the movie is everyone’s quick acceptance of Detective Vick’s pronouncement that Margot is dead given that her body was never recovered. In real life I doubt there’d be a funeral service just a day or two after Vick’s dubious conclusion, but I do give the film credit for focusing on David’s skepticism of Vick and his relentless pursuit of what really happened.

I also thought this film resembled Eighth Grade and others we’ve reviewed (Edge of Seventeen and The Circle). But not in a good way. In these antecedents we’re witness to an oversimplification of both teen life and technology. I think that David’s access to Margot’s internet world was far too easy. And the “horrors” that he found his daughter involved in were far too sanitary. The internet of teens is full of dick-pics, live sex shows, and pornography. If this film was trying to reveal the hidden lives of teens on the internet, it failed miserably. In fact, this looked more like a cautionary tale for grandparents of teens who need shelter from reality, rather than parents.

And there were plot holes aplenty in this film, too. If Detective Vick was trying to protect someone, why would she encourage David to do research on his daughter on the internet? Why wasn’t David a prime suspect (after all, friends and relatives are the first suspects in cases like this)? Why does Detective Vick show David where his daughter’s car was driving on the night she went missing? This story was a confusing mess. It started out looking like the story of a man losing his daughter and it turned into a murder mystery.

And I’m not clear on the message of this movie. On the one hand, it looks like the message is “we all need to talk to our teens more”. This is exemplified by David’s reluctance to talk to his daughter about her mother’s death. This is what pushed her to an online relationship that ended in her near death. On the other hand, it looks like the message is that “the internet is a dark and dangerous place.” But what is shown in the movie is extremely tame. More often than not, people masquerading on the internet and preying on teens are adult men, not troubled other teens. And finally, are we supposed to double-check the detectives assigned to our case when someone goes missing – perhaps not trusting even the police?

Ultimately, this film fails to entertain and fails to deliver a coherent message about the world of the internet and abduction. I wasn’t impressed.

Greg, I understand your points but I think you’re guilty of finding fault with a few of the trees while ignoring the rich, lush forest. The message of the film seemed pretty clear to me, and it’s the same message we got from the equally good film, Eighth Grade. Raising a family is exceptionally hard work and is made harder by dark forces operating around us and by communication gaps between parents and teens. I know that there’s nothing new or brilliant about this message and so we need a compelling story to drive home the point. Searching gives us this compelling story.

Overall, this film is a first-rate mystery-thriller that hooks us at the start by focusing on a family’s attempt to cope with the death of a loving mother. The film is effective in centering on David’s anguish in attempting to discover what happened to his one remaining family member, Margot, and we’re moved by revelations of Margot’s struggle with life after her mom has passed. There is a nice twist at the end involving police involvement in a coverup of what really happened. I enjoyed Searching and admired its craftsmanship. The film has earned 4 Reels out of 5.

Our hero David is an extremely sympathetic figure who traverses the classic hero’s journey. First, he’s thrown into the dangerous, unfamiliar world when his daughter goes missing. He is “initiated” by encountering setbacks, an unexpected villain, and help from surprising places. David is transformed by the experience by coming to understand the depths of his daughter’s pain in dealing with her mother’s death. Overall, it’s an impressive journey and earns 4 Hero points out of 5.

There are some good archetypes in the film, including the archetype of the teen with angst, the neglectful father, the corrupt detective, and the deadbeat brother. I give these archetypes 3 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Sigh… we will forever disagree on these types of film, Scott. I feel the real world of teen angst is so much darker and scarier than we’re seeing in the movies. There are so many stories to be told of how hard it is to be a real teen. Movies like Searching miss an opportunity to shed a light on real problems and instead sugar-coat them in a Saturday Morning Special way. I am searching for a way to give it a good score, but I can only muster 2 out of 5 Reels for Searching.

However, we agree that David undergoes a true hero’s journey. He starts out in the ordinary world of blissful ignorance about his daughter’s state of mind. Then he has to discover who she is through her internet accounts and acquaintances. And I want to take a second to emphasize the power of the “found footage” method of filming this movie. The use of the computer’s point of view (POV) to show us David’s journey to realization that he doesn’t truly know his daughter was innovative and entertaining. I give David 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Finally, I can’t add anything to your list of archetypes (except, perhaps, the offscreen MENTALLY DISTURBED TEEN). I also award Searching 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

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