(I had trouble getting blogspot to cooperate this week so no images for right now)
Here’s a fun fact about the internet: The solution to this problem, universally, is appending a “/s” to any text that’s meant to be sarcastic. And when the original writer thinks it’s obvious they’re meant to be read as sarcastic, there’s inevitably still someone replying with something like, “Can’t tell if /s or not.”
Searching and Secret Little Haven both have similar themes in this regard. Both of their plots involve a father failing to understand his daughter and almost losing them. The question remains, though. How do you convey a character’s emotion through a screen? And that’s where these two pieces of media diverge.
Let’s focus on Searching for now. Between it and Secret Little Haven, Searching is much more sympathetic to the father, if only because it’s shot almost entirely from his perspective. The audience gets to see all the messages John Cho’s character, David, doesn’t send. We get to see his mouse move across the screen, click between tabs or windows, and can therefore get a sense of what’s inside his head. There are also a number of instances of webcams set up to allow for, you know, the actual acting.
In fact, the film makes a point to introduce all the necessary characters by video call or similar means before dropping into the text messages. This idea works not only because the audience gets to see these character’s faces match them to text, but also because we get to see how David reacts to them. How does he react to his brother having weed just in shot, for example.
In fact, the film tries to avoid the problem for as long as possible. Video, whether for chatting or otherwise, is used at every opportunity, sometimes in some admittedly contrived ways. But the film is also good at setting up these opportunities. A few times late in the film are of note here, though to speak more about them would be to spoil them.
This is a film built on its twists and turns. It is a thriller, after all. And it’s got a pretty tight script to help it, too. That was one of the problems of Unfriended and its sequel: those films were built upon their gimmick and had little else to offer. Searching, on the other hand, is tied to its gimmick to the point that it becomes a necessary part of the film.
Again, I’m not going to spoil it because I do want people to experience this movie as blind as possible, but we’re introduced to a phrase pretty early on in the film that keeps coming up in the back of David’s mind. At the end of the film, when it finally comes out, the way it’s presented makes it all the more rewarding.