So far, 2018 has given us some major record-breaking summer movie magic: both Avengers: Infinity War and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom rose to the top of the crop, joining the billion-dollar club and the domestic and worldwide top-ten movies of all time list!

As August rolled around, critics anticipated a slower than average month at the box office, but representation proved (yet again) that if production studios can get it right, audiences will respond in a big way. Labour Day weekend is known as the official end of summer movie season, and although Searching was released in September, it contributes to August’s benefaction of Asian representation as the first ever mainstream Hollywood thriller headlined by an Asian American actor. John Cho (Harold & Kumar, Star Trek) shines in his role as David Kim, a widowed husband whose daughter unexpectedly goes missing in the middle of the night. 

Currently, three of the Top 5 movies at the box office – Crazy Rich Asians (#1), The Meg (#2) and Searching (#4) – all feature Asian American, British Asian, and/or native Asian talent, both in front and behind the cameras. It’s astounding to think of how long it’s taken to see a predominantly Asian cast in a contemporary setting on the big screen again… The Joy Luck Club, the last Hollywood movie to do so before 2018, was released 25 years ago; Asian Americans have been without proper representation in popular movies for a quarter of a century. How can this happen?! The obvious answer is White-washing and bias in Hollywood and that’s exactly why this past summer has been so monumental. 

Searching is the most recent addition to the box office’s Top 5 movie list, and while it’s perceived to have under-performed in its opening weekend (earning a total of $6.1 million in domestic ticket sales with a $24 million production bill), it’s the blood-red cherry atop an already impressive month at the movies. With The Nun, A Simple Favor, The Predator and Halloween all due in theatres later this month, the release of Searching kickstarts the horror/thriller/Halloween movie season. Searching is also an official selection at the 2018 Sundance Movie Festival. It may not have had a wave of promotion or record ticket sales like other summer blockbusters were privy to, but from start to finish, this movie has all the ingredients necessary to produce a sleeper hit with millions of streams to come. 

With thought-provoking developments and an algorithmic tornado of social media perceptions, Searching is projected through video, using everything from Apple products to surveillance footage. Even Facebook, Reddit, Youtube and Google (among other online social media platforms) are meticulously and even humorously (in the “dad joke” sense) used to depict a father’s desperate mission to find his missing teenage daughter. Every phone call, text message, search result, and mouse click leads to another unexpected twist. The filming style is being compared to “the first tech thriller,” 2014’s Unfriended, which produced a sequel this summer entitled Unfriended: Dark Web. But Searching veers away from teen slasher status and joins the likes of more sophisticated thrillers written and directed by upcoming filmmakers, like Get Out by Jordan Peele and A Quiet Place by John Krasinski.

A fairly new creative duo in Hollywood, Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian joined forces to write Searching, withChaganty also directing. This is their first major motion picture, so the pair took in as many crime-culture artifacts as possible, from the big screen version of Gone Girl and Netflix’s Making a Murderer, to episodes of Serial. Since the movie takes place “on screen,” Chaganty and Ohanian wrote what they called “a scriptment,” a 50-page outline featuring dialogue and action descriptions. A whole new world of filmmaking has peaked its head from under the bed, and the pair are already collaborating on another thriller entitled Run, which is currently in pre-production with a pending release date.

In the 1h 41m it takes to find out what’s happened to 16-year-old Margot Kim (newcomer Michelle Ya of TV’s Mom), Searching takes audiences on a steadfast quest powered by the internet’s ability to trace her every move. Debra Messing also stars as Detective Vick, her first role in a thriller since 2002’s The Mothman Prophecies, and trust me when I say TV’s Grace Adler of Will & Grace is fortunately nowhere to be found.

Between Messing and Cho – two very funny actors – their ability to turn off the humour and turn on the suspense is vivid in this film. Overall, Searching holds a mirror up to our online behaviours, then lists how the World Wide Web not only sways society’s perceptions and opinions, but shapes a narrative in which hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people will believe to be true.

Every crime has many sides to the story – the truth, which nowadays can hopefully be pieced together using every kind of technology imaginable, and the rumour mill – lies or speculations that ironically spread via the very same technology used to crack a case. At the end of the day, Searching reminds us to stay vigilant, ask questions, and come to our own conclusions based on facts.

“No one is lost without a trace.”

3.5 Popcorn Kernels / 5


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About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.