SEARCHING (2018, Aneesh Chaganty)
Has an opening ten minutes that goes for UP-level pathos, and while it may not reach Pixarian heights, the form does make it interesting. Producer Timur Bekmambetov has made a new career out of churning out movies that all take place on a laptop screen, and while this is no UNFRIENDED, it still uses the conceit to reveal information in interesting ways. We start on a Windows/PC laptop and see the Norton Antivirus software. First clue we’re in the past. As we lurch towards the present, the PC is replaced by a MacBook. Certain search windows and tools are further signifiers, and beyond that, the content of the folders and iMessages gives us a taste of what we really need to know.
This keeps the story entertaining, because it generates both tension and laughs (one huge one) out of things as simple as missed call notifications and text bubble ellipses or someone entering and leaving a chat. This isn’t a movie about technology in any pro-computer or Luddite scenario; it’s about parenting, and it simply uses modern communication as a means to dole out exposition craftily.
Unfortunately, as it goes along, it paints itself into a corner and the story becomes kind of stupid, and all of it is exacerbated by Chaganty’s unsteady tone and amateur desperation, such as using either Cho’s worst take or not asking him for more, or piling on a heavy-handed, bombastic score. It also cheats on its own gimmick by escaping the laptop in favor of surveillance footage and TV news cameras. SEARCHING is a brisk, entertaining sit, and Bekmambetov knows what he’s doing with this genre, but it shouldn’t be a crutch for shaky screenplays.