For a film that’s confined to the visual format of social media screens, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching is one dynamic thriller with suspense, momentum and twists that blindside you. The premise is simple: David Kim’s (John Cho) daughter is missing. She hasn’t answered his calls, texts or FaceTime and communication from her end has gone dead. He now has to break into her laptop, scour through apps, feeds and chat rooms to gain clues about her whereabouts, with the help of an intrepid Detective (Debra Messing). Every frame of this film is some sort of technological facet, from chat alerts to messages to candid footage to news updates to webcasts and more, and against all odds it really, really works. When you’re restricted by format to that level you have to make every inch of your story count, and Chaganty has produced a winner. Right off the bat we are introduced to a family history via stored footage that has us caring for both David and his daughter immensely, before she even goes missing. Cho’s performance is panicked, desperate everything a father in that situation should reflect. The suspense is brilliantly placed and as the story rounds each new curve and doles out a few well earned wow moments, it remains unpredictable and aside from a few minor quibbles and one eye-roll of a red herring, believable as well. I’d love to see this continue into an anthology of sorts, with more mysteries and thrillers told from the perspective of technology/social media. It rules many aspects of our lives and is present wherever we go, whatever we do and I’m fascinated by how they have integrated it into the medium of cinema here. Great film.
Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies takes a harrowing look at a curious set of events that did indeed occur for real in the rural West Virginia area. Now, just how much of what we see in the film actually happened is eternally unclear, but I’ve read up on a lot of it and there’s enough testimonials, independent of each other, to both justify the film and shiver your spine. A myriad of unexplainable phenomenon plagued those poor people for some time back then, including visions, eerie phone calls and a mysterious red eyed creature in the shape of a giant moth. Businessman Richard Gere and wife Debra Messing come face to face with what appears to be this entity one night on a lonely stretch of highway, causing a grisly car crash and leaving Messing in a dire psychological state. With the help of a local policewoman (Laura Linney), Gere unwisely tries to figure out this terrifying mystery by putting himself way closer to the occurances than I would ever go, experiencing the stuff of nightmares along the way. Pellington comes from a music video background and as such he is incredibly adept at creating style and atmosphere (his opening credits for Arlington Road are almost as foreboding as anything in this film), two key elements in successfully telling a tale such as this. Gere wanders around in a daze most of the time, distraught over his wife’s condition and obviously influenced by forces unknown. Whatever is out there remains blessedly unseen save for a few hurried glimpses, say, behind a tree or at a kitchen window momentarily, spurring heart attacks from both audience and the poor sods stuck in this brooding bad dream. Rounding out the cast is Alan Bates as the obligatory historian who has seen this all unfold previously in some far corner of the world, and an excellent Will Patton in a frightening turn as a rural farmer who comes who becomes tragically influenced these dark forces. No one plays disturbed quite like him, a jittery, resolute calm always playing around in his eyes, the perfect presence to set anyone on edge. The finale sort of emerges from the chrysalis of dark atmospherics into large scale disaster mode, a choice which didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred to have it kept intimate and creepy right up until some kind of moody end, but they went with fireworks instead. Not enough to hurt the film of negate what came before though, it’s just too good of a time in the haunted house to be dragged down by anything, really. Chilling stuff.