‘I didn’t know her… I didn’t know my daughter…’
One of the many reasons Bram Stoker’s Dracula was such a storm in the late 19th century literary circles because of his utilization of the epistolary format – the term given for a novel that is told through letters. Stoker’s iconic Gothic work is told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, doctor’s notes, ship logs and the like. 120 years on Searching is one of the first films to mimic this literary style. It’s a modern missing person thriller told through technology.
The film opens with a beautiful prelude of dad, David (John Cho), mum, Margot (Michelle La), and daughter, Pam (Sara Sohn). We see them through the years courtesy of their computer usage; we see home movies and photos being uploaded, emails being sent and received, google searches being made and dates being put in the diary.
We’re not told about this trio. We’re shown it.
It’s like those crime solving kits you can buy; they provide you with the pieces of the puzzle. It’s up to you to construct meaning and put them together. The reason it is so beautiful is because it’s so emotivally put-together and because it’s so familiar. Not because we’ve seen it before but it’s because it’s something that nearly all of us do. How we use our computers and smartphones reveals more about us than we might care to think. Those digital and social media footprints, when pieced together, expose us.
The film follows this format for the entirety of it’s running-time and it remains constantly captivating and truly riveting. The film is told through the screen of a webcam – which Cho spends most of the time featuring in – alongside messengers, emails, videos, articles, surveillance footage and other documents. Rarely do we get two characters on screen together. Instead the story is told in a manner that has become increasingly familiar in contemporary society; one person alone in a room communicating with others who are also alone. Never has the term ‘social media’ felt so apt and yet so far.
When Pam goes missing David delves into the place that will contain all of her secrets; her laptop. What David finds, how he goes about finding it and how he processes it, ends up being a dissection of our universal usage of technology. Two recurrent examples of this is when David sends out some messages; he drafts, he redrafts, alters word choices and self-censors. it’s something we all do yet forget that others do the same. We focus so much on the messages we communicate and presume others find it so easy. Rarely has a film captured the complexities – the wonders and the perils – of digital communication and our online status.
The other truly exposing moment is when David makes a phone call to another parent early on, when he has just realised that Pam has gone missing, and his voice feigns calm. He feigns that he knows what’s going on, that nothing is wrong and that there is no need for urgency – even when that is all he feels. It’s haunting as it’s so nuanced and yet so familiar to many of us. In that short moment we are reminded yet again about how we construct our own identities and how we self-monitor, even in our worst moments. A simple reminder of the fact that, more often than not, there’s not a link between what we do, say and feel. How can we truly understand others if we cannot understand that about ourselves?
Searching is a truly unique, refreshing, inventive, fun and engaging film. Told with flair and mystery, it is a film that will draw anyone in. Well worth a watch.
Searching is in UK cinemas from 31st August.