Try to imagine the movie Hitchcock would be able to do in today’s age of social media. All the new types of horrors he could unleash upon us thanks to this new playground called the internet. Searching provides a rather convincing picture of what that might have be like. This is a gripping thriller that will sneak up on you and catch you by surprise. I certainly was not prepared for it. The trailer didn’t do much for me and if it wasn’t for the excellent word of mouth this movie was getting, I would have never gone out to see it. But I am glad that I did, because this movie will definitely end up in my top 10 of this year.
The story, in itself, is rather simple. Margot, the young daughter of David Kim (John Cho) goes missing. Desperate to find his daughter, David deep dives into Margot’s emails, facebook profile and other parts of her digital life, only to discover that Margot is not the daughter he believed her to be.
So far there is nothing new, we have seen this movie a thousand times before. What is different here that everything is unfolding on a computer screen. We never get to see a traditional shot in this movie. We see texting, people talking on facetime, posts on different social media platforms, vlog-ing, youtube videos and countless other things we might witness on a computer screen. And despite my initial expectation, it is a super effective form of delivery for the story. It provides an intimate perspective; it is almost voyeuristic. Every one of us have moved a good portion of their social interaction and personality (sort to speak) online, and this is what the movie is exploring, the fact that we are more real in the digital space than in actual, day to day life. And because of this, watching how the events unfold on a computer screen feels more real than if we would have witnessed it first hand in real life. According to the movies producer, Timur Bekmambetov, this idea came to him after a skype call with a friend of his, where they used the then newly introduced feature of screen sharing. After they have concluded the call, the friend has forgot to disable the screen share and Timur got a few minutes glimpse of his friends actual digital self, the one we all display when nobody else is watching our screen. Naturally, he notified the friend that the share is still ongoing.
However, even the best concepts can fail if they are not executed well. Thankfully, this is not the case. The story is properly customized for this kind of delivery system. We establish an emotional bond with David and Margot in the first minutes of the movie by learning their story through pictures, home videos, emails and a calendar schedules. I know that it sounds rather dry, but trust me, it is anything but. It is one of the most effective exposition I have seen in years. Within a couple of minutes, we are up to date with everything, we care about the characters and are ready to go for the plot. And the plot unfolds beautifully. The pace is fast but even. We go from A to B to C and so on with a steady speed. None of the plot points overstay their welcome to become boring. And this is a good thing, because based on the trailer I was convinced that the filmmakers will insist upon the hypocrisy of social media, which they do point out but without over doing it. Instead, they concentrate on the tension, which, just like the view count of a viral video, just goes up, and up. And just like with any viral video or news, you get hooked in and you stay with it until the very end. And it is a great ride. The film makers are very clever in making connections through the story and you can understand how the characters reach certain conclusions, or in the case of big reveals, you can understand what they are based upon, despite the surprise. Also, the movie is filled with clues about what happened, but the misdirects employed by the script are damned good and kept me from guessing the actual ending of the story. Not until the final clue was I able to figure out what was going on, but even then I was short on the details. All in all, this is a mystery done right.
Unfortunately, there is a major flaw in this movie. It will not age well. One of the factors that really boosts the effectiveness of our connection to the story is the fact that we are familiar with most of the platforms and processes we witness. We use facebook, email, youtube and any other digital playground on a daily basis. So all the layouts, the sounds, actions are like second nature to us, we need no explanation of what is happening there because we know it in our sleep. However… The movie opens up with David making an account for (a then about 10 years old) Margot on the family PC, which ran Windows XP. Now, I am old enough to remember that operating system, I have used it for almost a decade, but I am no longer as familiar with it as I once used to. I am sure that most teenagers watching this movie understood the concept what was going on the screen, adding another user to a computer, but had no idea what they are looking at. And here in lies the problem. The movie is so rooted in today’s technology that it will automatically be outdated with it, regardless of the overall performance in storytelling. Yes, we know facebook, and we know Gmail, but what happens 5 years from now? During 5 years, all these platforms can perform design changes to which we get accustomed to and then this movie will not feel as much familiar and intimate as it does now. Now try the same thing 10 years from now, try 20… When I was a teenager, mIRC was a thing, now it is not. So was yahoo messenger, myspace… There were a bunch of platforms that we knew inside and out back then and which we barely remember today. The same is true for today’s platforms, with the passing of time, they too will become irrelevant, and together with them this movie will pass too into oblivion. Don’t believe me? In 2004 there was this movie called Cellular, with Chris Evans in the lead. One of its major plot twist was that the heroes cell phone could record video and the bad guys did not know that… Sounds silly? It is today, but back in the day that was a rare thing. And again, who remembers that movie today? Same in our case, 10-20 years from now, everything that looks interesting from a tech point of view will become laughable, or the very least cute. This is why good sci-fi films are never rooted into today’s tech. Even if their special effects no longer hold up, the movie itself is timeless, it doesn’t become irrelevant because the storytelling is still done the same way is it always has been. And great sci-fi films are never rooted into today’s tech either, but tomorrows tech is rooted into them. So this is one major pitfall Searching did not miss.
But, there is no time like now, and now this is one of the best movies 2018 has to offer. It is thrilling, it is exciting and it provides a great topic of conversation. I highly recommend it for everyone to see it, before it expires.