Searching (2018)

I have a love/hate relationship with “gimmick” films. You know what I mean, the kind where the biggest sell of it isn’t the plot or actors, but the way they made the film. When they’re done well, like Buried (one person in a casket for the entire film), they’re a great piece of film-making, but they have to be great, because if they’re only okay (Unsane), then the fact it’s a gimmick-heavy film works makes it seem worse. The gimmick of this film; it takes place entirely on computer screens. This has been done before; with Unfriended, which considering I now call that “Unfriended. A.k.a, fuck that film” should show how highly I regarded that film, and my expectations for this.

Glad to say I was surprised. This film was good, very good. The worry about doing a story like this is if the audience figures out the ending too soon, if they get to it a long time before the character does, the character looks like an idiot. It’s not just the ending, if the audience comes up with an action that the main character didn’t consider, it can sour the film (as I’ll go into in more depth when I review The House With A Clock In Its Walls, where the characters get to an idea WELL after the audience does). That kind of action makes you feel the film is treating the audience like idiots. This doesn’t treat you like an idiot, but it will make you feel like one. There are multiple times where you’ll think “it’s definitely this person who kidnapped her, definitely, EVIL! EVIL!” and you feel smart for figuring it out, then it turns out you’re wrong. The final twist for this is perfect, as it answers a lot of questions you didn’t even realise had been asked. It enhances the rest of the film as opposed to negating it, and it’s set up so beautifully you’ll immediately want to watch the film again. It’s one of the few films this year where I was genuinely on the edge of my seat for the entire thing (although that might also be because the very nature of the film means everything is in focus all the time, so you lean in to become actively involved so you pay attention to everything). It’s really hard to pick a stand-out moment from this; the entire thing was just brilliant. Even the opening montage was so skillfully done you can’t fault it. It was a 5-minute long summary of a girl growing up viewed through a camera lens; incredibly heartwarming and really pushes the idea of the family, which is what essentially this film is about. It’s about how people hide their full self from family, for fear of disappointing, or being judged. It also says a lot about the human condition; when the news breaks about the girl’s disappearance, a lot of people on Twitter accuse the dad, saying he definitely murdered her. He reads these because of course, he does. It’s a sharp reminder that the words you say as a faceless being on the web, are being read by real people, so don’t be a dick. This leads to a great moment of catharsis where he finds someone who was saying things like that, and just punches him in the face. It’s remarkably therapeutic to watch. There’s also a deliciously dark moment where a company responds to the news coverage of her missing by e-mailing him saying “We do live webcasts of funerals” hoping to use it for publicity. It’s so evil, yet so recognisably true of how a business would react to that. It’s kind of hard to watch because of how accurate it portrays the way people and businesses respond online to tragedy.

This review has been a bit all over the place I know, but that’s because it’s hard to focus on one thing. It does SO much right, and I can’t wait to see it again. It’s so good *spoilers* even the happy ending doesn’t feel forced or tacked on. Some films are so good they inspire you to make similar films, this film is so good it will kind of make you want to give up as you know you will never touch it. It’s apt that I reviewed this after finishing the Saw series, because that series could learn a lot from this about how to craft a decent mystery.

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