SEARCHING (2018, streaming on Netflix) is a mystery thriller film about a missing teenager that commits to a format, pulls an amazing amount of character and drama out of it, and presents a twisty, virtually unpredictable mystery.
The film rolls out on a series of small screens: desktops, laptops, cell phones, Youtube videos, Facebook, security camera footage, and the like. Through this format, we see a girl named Margot grow up with two loving parents. Tragedy strikes, and father David is left to raise his teenage daughter by himself. One night, she says she’s going to be out late with a study group but never returns. Now David must try to find out what happened to her using a variety of devices and social media, learning his daughter’s secrets in the process.
Limiting what we see to a series of small screens and clicks is an interesting device that could have quickly felt like a gimmick. Instead, it’s so well done through able direction that it plays out as a tense thriller, and the limited view provides a simultaneously voyeuristic yet intimate participation in Margot’s life and David’s search. Even with the limited lens, the good acting and script invest us heavily in drama that transcends the gimmick and provide almost constant tension with pacing that rarely flags. Within 5-10 minutes, I was affected and invested in these people by seeing the story of Margot growing up. The mystery aspect plays out extremely well, with all the seeds provided but nonetheless unpredictable and filled with twists. Thematically, the film touches on dealing with loss, the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the double-edged sword that is electronic media in our highly connected, low-privacy age.
Overall, I really liked this one and highly recommend it.