Searching (Chaganty, 2018)

Reader, when that Up-inspired prologue kicked into gear, with that inanely sentimental score blaring away as a mother was diagnosed with lymphoma and then swiftly killed off, I was tempted to switch this film off and go to bed. The moment I saw someone typing “How to fight lymphoma as a family” into Google, and heard the score kicking into ardent motivational gear, I could tell that Searching was going to get on my nerves. Incessantly unwilling to trust its viewers, the film adopts the cyber gaze effect made popular by the Unfriended films so that a father’s frenzied search for his missing daughter can be chronicled in real time, as he scrolls through her social media and private documents for clues. The problem that the film runs into is that, one, the logic is off, and two, it doesn’t offer much beyond a superficial distrust of the cyberspace. The first point is self-evident: David (John Cho) would not be sitting on his ass in real life, FaceTimeing random teenagers and interrogating everyone on his daughter’s Facebook. If a loved one goes missing, you’re not going to be stationary and filling in Excel profiles as precious time ticks away. But because the film’s gimmick requires every point of action to be filtered through an intermediary screen, Cho’s character needs a reason to stay behind his laptop, and a half-baked excuse is provided. Did you know the screen’s the thing to catch the conscience of the king?

When viewed from David’s perspective, his daughter’s online life is alarmingly different from the one he thinks she lives. On the face of it, though, is it really alarming at all? She vlogs. She posts photos to Instagram and Tumblr. Strangers talk to her. This is the reality of the Internet these days. The film, however, finds reasons for anxiety in every possible corner, culminating in one of the year’s most laughable twists when David belatedly realizes that someone was chatting to Margot using a random model’s headshot they got from Google Images as their avatar. The film quakes at the idea that people are not who they say they are when they’re online. It devolves into PSA-like preachiness about false identities and the danger of being too trusting, all of which balloons out of proportion in the final act, which turns into brainless Law & Order parody that further undercuts everything that came before. In other words, it’s a mess, plotted and conceived as though a bunch of paranoid 60-somethings were behind it. It boggles the mind it was written by guys nearing their 30s.

I didn’t like anything about this one, unfortunately. It takes itself so seriously without having anything worthwhile to say about its subjects. The sentimental aspects exceed acceptable levels of kitsch. And the cyber gaze gimmick doesn’t feel justified when the most interesting outcome is Cho’s character misspelling Tumblr as “Tumbler,” because of course he’s never heard of it before. What self-respecting, high-achieving person is supposed to know what Tumblr is?

CTRL+ALT+DEL this nonsense and find a film that knows how to treat you respectfully.