Sundance Review: Search – Destroy Expectations

A single frame from Search, courtesy of Sundance Institute

There have been a few movies set on a computer screen before. Unfriended and Open Windows made it work but Search is the first movie where you don’t even notice it’s all on a computer screen. It’s just so organic to the way we use devices that it just feels like a regular movie, and it’s an awesome thriller.

David Kim (John Cho) is a single dad to Margot (Michelle La) since his wife Pam (Sara Sohn) died of cancer. Even the family tragedy is established with a mundane calendar app. When Margot goes missing, David begins a frantic search using the apps on his laptop and keeping Detective Vick (Debra Messing) informed of clues.

Video and FaceTime are so normal now that it means a computer screen can be a whole movie. We’re so used to it, we don’t require shot/reverse shot. It’s also a testament to the way director Aneesh Chaganty uses these formats exactly as they are used in real life. None are stretched to make the gimmick work.

Search captures the frustrations we all relate to now. To log onto Margot’s account, David has to go through a daisy chain of password recoveries until he reaches an account he can access. Opening up Pam’s old accounts to retrieve information is heavy just for revisiting the life that ended.

There’s also comic relief in the idiosyncrasies of text messaging. David reconsiders and deletes texts, even down to the punctuation mark. The most relatable gag of all comes at the most frustrating time… the spinning wheel.

The details are genius. In every Google Search David makes, there are as many wrong hits as right ones, and they’re all there.

The dialogue written by Chaganty and Sev Ohanian is perfectly natural. No one is explaining what the devices and windows are showing. They just talk about them the way we do, because it’s second nature.

Search is a crackling mystery full of great red herrings and Hitchcockian misdirects. Chaganty even makes use of tropes like confessional videos and incriminating stings.

This search is also teaching David about the private side of Margot she doesn’t feel she can share with him. It’s also a bit about sensationalized media cases. Social media erupts around David, revealing insensitive and opportunistic sides of technology.

If you’re worried about the plausibility of limiting this search to David’s home computer, there is a point where he does have to leave home. There are just no shortage of devices to track him on.

Profanities are bleeped to keep it PG-13, because there’s no reason Search shouldn’t be accessible to all. I just like to point out that I don’t think David in this situation would worry about typing “f***ing” though. He’d just spell it out.

I think what really makes Search work is it would be just as compelling as a traditional movie. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. From that foundation, Chaganty perfected the new media version of this thriller.

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