This past weekend, I decided to see the new thriller film Searching, which was released on August 31st. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, Searching stars John Cho, a father who is trying to find his missing daughter.
The film is shot entirely through the point of view of smartphones and computers, a new modern genre of movies that uses technology to move the narrative and to create a different bond between the characters and the audience.
When done right, this medium can erase the distance between the characters and the audience. Searching reminded me greatly of the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, which kickstarted the found footage genre we see in many horror films nowadays. Unfortunately, once this genre became mainstream it began to be used poorly and the idea of “found footage” and seeing things in the protagonist’s point of view became a bore. A big example would be the ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, where the ratings of the movies have gone down the more and more sequel films were released. (The first film having an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the most recent only has a 14%)
Searching showed that that doesn’t have to be the case. What makes the film so different from recent movies is that it uses the technology medium to create this intense, nail-biting suspense that is no longer seen in modern-day thrillers.
The whole entire time in the theatre, you could almost feel the stress that was being emitted from the audience members. People were gasping, muttering to themselves, holding onto each other; the suspense was grasping on to every audience member in a way that made the movie so frightening, yet so fun to watch at the same time.
Looking back at the movie, I was wondering what it was about it that made it such an amazing thriller. At first glance, the plot of the movie seems simplistic or perhaps predictable since the missing person trope has been done so many times in recent movies. However, Searching was different. It played the suspenseful trope in a way that seems new. I finally understood the reason why the suspense was so brilliant in this film was that it felt classic.
When analyzing stories, most people come across the theory of suspense and tension. Famous film creator Alfred Hitchcock discussed this best during a 1962 interview with French film director Francois Truffaut. In this interview, Hitchcock discussed the idea of the “distinction of surprise and suspense.” How the unexpected will always be the highlight of the story, and that the audience needs to feel involved with the plot.
I realized the reason this didn’t hit me earlier was because of the new medium of technological thrillers. What Searching did right was create a modern story and use a modern medium to tell a story of a classic genre. It was a movie that did not rely on the physical reaction of a jump scare to scare an audience, or to use the grotesque. It created this raw and intense suspense by making the audience completely engross itself into the perspective of John Cho’s character that the line between us and him becomes one.
Throughout the movie, the audience is desperate to follow the protagonist’s train of thought. We see what he sees, we figure things out before he does, we join him on the story’s timeline that when the plot twists happen, the only thing we can do is react. Searching is a true suspense in the highest order.
It’s hard to think of another recent movie that made me feel this way. The problem that modern day cinema faces is how to create new stories and mediums, but to still hang on to what works. This is what ‘Searching’ does right. It was a thriller, and a movie in general, worth waiting for.
I would recommend anyone to go see this movie. It will completely immerse you and the end will be so satisfying you won’t be able to leave the story.
The suspense is not the only unique part of the film. Not only directed by an Indian-American, Searching is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller headlined by an Asian-American actor. Both the cast and production team are extremely diverse making this a movie that needs to be supported.
So go to the theatres with friends and have fun watching this movie. Even if the idea of seeing a movie through the medium of technology doesn’t seem like something you would like, trust me when I say that it certainly pays off. If you want to see a thriller that is actually suspenseful, then Searching is the movie that you need to see.
You can click here to watch the trailer.
Photo Via Searching Official Trailer