Wednesday, 25 July 2018


Screen Of The Crime

2018 USA Directed by Aneesh Chaganty
UK cinema release print. Pre-release preview.

Okay, so Searching is a really interesting movie with a fairly fresh (or should that be refresh) take on the old police procedural style movies where a family member helps the cops to solve a crime. And it’s really great because it gives us a fairly new kind of cinematic experience ... it’s a little like the format of Unfriended (reviewed by me here) but with a much more ‘filmish’ bent to the way in which it is shot... I’ll explain that statement in a minute but this is definitely a much more sophisticated beast than the low budget horror movie mentioned above.

The plot, as you'll know if you’ve seen the trailer, is about David Kim (played by the new Mr. Sulu himself, John Cho), a father whose teenage daughter Margot (played here by Michelle La) goes missing. As events unfold, he realises that what she has been telling him about her life for the last six months and the actual reality of that are two different things. As little revelations occur, he uses various computers and online web sites to help Detective Rosemary Vick (played by Debra Messing) in her search for his girl. And that’s the basic set up and that’s mostly about all I’m going to reveal to you about the plot, such as it is.

The film starts off with a montage of David going through files on his computer... and all you see is the computer screen as he goes through various images, messages and videos and, for the next five or ten minutes, we see Margot born and how she grows up over the years. We learn about how important David’s wife, Pamela Kim (played by Sara Sohn) is to everybody and we watch her beat cancer only for it to come back and claim her life. All this set up is great, beautifully conveyed (and emotionally scored... there’s a lot of piano here too, to reflect the fact that Margot is learning the piano throughout her life) and if the sequence had just finished after that opening, I would still be heaping praise on this movie even if it turned out to be a clunker but, as it happens, the film is quite special. Here’s why...

I don’t know how I didn’t pick up on this when I saw the trailer but, the screens don’t stop when this sequence is done. The whole of the movie is told through what people, mostly David, are seeing and doing on their computer screen. You see David a lot because he’s often on Face Time or on Skype and, as you may or may not know, the camera on the computer often leaves a live feed of you and what you’re doing when nobody is on the other end of those kinds of software applications. So quite often we can see Dave in one of the windows as he fiddles with various things on screen and this gives the audience the desired stimulus to empathise completely with his character.

But this movie is way better than that... it’s not just blandly looking at a static image of one screen or another. The director takes this footage and, just as he would with first hand footage, he will zoom or pan into certain bits of the screen and edit out what’s not required to highlight and de-emphasise desired story elements. It even, as I mentioned before, has a score playing through the film... a quite effective one by Torin Borrowdale, to add tension and drama as certain revelations happen on screen.

The director also effectively uses little rest points to signal, almost subconsciously, the end of certain sequences and the beginning of others... such as using a giant shot of a blank flashing cursor quite memorably in a couple of places to usher in the next stage of the movie. There’s a lovely sequence where something fairly familiar to PC users suddenly becomes a surreal moment due to the unfamiliarity of seeing it so big on screen and with an underscore... not going to say what it is but the way it suddenly brings rest to the film’s pacing is quite brilliant.

I also enjoyed that at, one point, the film footage switches from David’s IBM compatible PC Windows machine to his daughter’s machine, which is a proper Apple Mac, because the blocky and slightly blurry picture resolution seemed to sharpen up a little while the Apple computer was telling the relevant portions of the story. As an Apple user both at work and home for over two decades, this really worked for me.

Now, I have to say that, if this was a movie shot in a standard manner, then I would have seen the ending of this film coming way before the finish. As it was though, because of the format that has been chosen to express this, my initial lead suspect (and perpetrator in this piece) was soon pushed out of my mind as I didn’t think the writers and director would even begin trying to attempt a twist of that magnitude in this kind of style. I really didn’t expect them to be running before they’d even proven they could walk but... oh yeah... they totally go where I suspected they wouldn’t for the end game of the movie and, bearing in mind the limits of the format, they really don’t cheat, much, in the way they achieve the general unfolding of the story. In fact, there’s a brilliant scene where David has set up multiple screens recorded on his computer (not being monitored by him at that time because he has to be in the footage) and, not known to him but clear to the audience, a major break in the investigation appears to be coming in from the detective but he’s not around to answer any of her calls.

Also... and again this may be due to the nature of the format... I was completely taken in by a scene where a character is suspected of ‘doing the deed’ and then it turns out to be a red herring. Was totally invested in the film being over soon after but then... things carry on and there’s a beautiful plot revelation at the eleventh hour which I won’t elaborate on here but, in keeping with the various apps and websites used throughout the movie to track and progress the investigation, it all involves around a stock photography site. Considering my own profession as a graphic designer, I especially liked this element.

So... yeah... Searching is an old school missing person yarn with a very modern setting (computer screens) but which is expressed through that modern setting by a very traditional film-making skill set, such as the use of pans, zooms, tracking shots, time edits, establishing shots of sorts (rendered as website landing pages, etc) and an accompanying musical score which is again, composed and performed fairly traditionally to capture the emotions and tension of the story. It’s all very well done and, though I hate to think it’s going to be that influential in terms of having to sit through a hundred gazillion copycat movies of this one anytime soon, I really think that lovers of cinema and the thriller genre in particular, should go and see this one. Searching hits UK cinemas at the end of August 2018 (and US cinemas next week) and is well worth a visit. My one piece of advice would be, due to the resolution of this kind of format on a big screen, that you don’t sit too near the front... get some distance on it. Definitely go and take a look at this one, though.

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