Searching

Run

18/04/21

Netflix

The title of this film is surely meant as an irony. What does a potential victim do when they are unable to run away from imminent danger? How can they hope to survive? Well, they must use their ingenuity of course – and this central premise is what fuels a tightly directed thriller from writer/director Aneesh Chaganty, who some will remember from his 2018 offering, Searching. Yes, it’s slightly schlocky, and you might not want to think too closely about some of the background details, but it spins a gripping and suspenseful yarn that never lets up until it hits its final frame.

Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a teenager beset with a whole host of health issues. Just to make sure we appreciate how many there are, they are spelled out over the opening credits. She has asthma and eczema , she has to make herself vomit every morning and, most punishing of all, her legs are completely paralysed. Luckily, she has a mom in a million. She is Diane (Sarah Paulson), a woman who has devoted her life to caring for her daughter’s needs, teaching her at home, medicating her, cooking, cleaning, the whole shebang.

But a change is coming. Chloe has applied to go to University and she’s confidently awaiting offers of admission. Diane is taking it all in her stride. When asked by other carers how she’ll cope when her baby finally flies the nest, she assures them she’ll be just okay. Why, she’s actually looking forward to a little relaxation.

But… is she really as laid back as she appears?

It would be a crime to reveal any more of the plot. Suffice to say that there are some genuine surprises waiting in the wings to step out from cover and smack you in the kisser. Paulson is always good and she excels here as a cunning and deceitful character, able to mask everything behind a matronly smile. Allen too is utterly convincing as her daughter, who, over the space of a few days, has to come to terms with the fact that everything she’s believed since childhood needs to be drastically reassessed – and who is ingenious enough to find solutions to pretty much every problem that’s thrown at her.

There’s probably little point in mentioning any other actors because this is essentially a two hander – though I think an honourable nod should go to Pat Healy as ‘Mailman Tom,’ who certainly manages to make his brief appearance a memorable one.

So yes, this is well worth one hour and forty-eight minutes of your time.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Searching

12/09/18

How much do parents actually know about their kids?

That seems to be the overriding question in writer/director Aneesh Chaganty’s clever thriller, in which single parent, David Kim (John Cho), is plunged into a world of unbearable suspense when his teenage daughter, Margot (Michelle La), suddenly and inexplicably goes missing. When she fails to answer the many phone calls and text messages he sends her, his only recourse is to find a way onto her social media pages and start quizzing the various ‘friends’ he finds there – only to discover that Margot doesn’t seem to have any real friends – and that the daughter he cares so much about has mysterious secrets she has been keeping from him. Why has she lied to him about attending her piano lessons? And why has she been regularly sending money to a secret bank account?

At first, Kim tries to go it alone, but when he realises that something bad has surely happened, he dutifully contacts the police and in comes Detective Vick (Debra Messing) to help him sort things out. But, just when I think that some kind of order will inevitably result from this,  Kim starts making fresh discoveries – and the subsequent revelations gleefully pull the rug from under my feet, again and again.

The clever conceit of this film is that it plays out entirely on screens – not just the cinema screen, you understand, so much as computers, FaceTime calls, CCTV footage and rolling news. This kind of thing has been attempted before (perhaps most memorably in the 2014 horror movie, Unfriended), but Searching is a giant step up from that. Indeed, it’s done so ingeniously, that I find myself gasping in admiration at Chaganty’s skill as a storyteller. The opening sequence, which details the gradual demise of Kim’s wife to cancer, manages to make the changes made to an electronic calendar a profoundly moving experience. Later on, lines of text written, but then erased and substituted with something less confrontational, tell their own compelling story.

This is anything but predictable. Indeed, I find myself blindsided and sucker-punched several times during the film which keeps me on the edge of my seat right up to the very end. There are bigger movies out there right now, and the danger is that this little gem could easily get overlooked, but make no mistake: it’s quality filmmaking and well worth your time and effort. Don’t miss it.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney