Boy, I sure wasn’t expecting to see a melodrama! Sure, Searching (2018) is billed as a thriller, but when a film opens with an Up (2009)-style tearjerking montage, only allows the actors “the emotional range of a teaspoon” (to quote Hermione), and ends with a series of plot twists that not only strains credibility but flagrantly destroys it, I think it’s safe to call it a melodrama.
In terms of the film itself, Richard Brody’s review takes the words right out of my mouth. However, it’s main selling point, being composed solely of footage from electronic screens, is no gimmick, though it’s maintained with increasing tenuity near the end of the film. Searching is the story of a father’s (John Cho) search for his missing daughter (Michelle La), whom it turns out he barely knows; he thus has to rely on the record of her digital life. It’d be implausible if a contemporary missing person story didn’t have the digital aspect, and the screen footage setup is the most economical way to convey such a search. You can tell it’s a choice and not a gimmick because, at almost every turn, the filmmakers augment the footage with camera movements: zooms, close-ups, even tracking shots (or are they panning shots? Is there a difference in this situation?).
The film can therefore said to have opened up a new dimension of filmmaking aesthetics; I just wish the other elements wren’t so old-school.