With the decline of mid-budget movies, Hollywood is making a fair number of low-budget high-concept movies like “Get Out,” “A Quiet Place,” and now in theaters “Searching.”
“Searching” is a more realistic take on the now standard Liam Neeson “Taken” thriller genre about a dad with a very particular set of skills looking for his missing daughter. John Cho plays a Silicon Valley Korean-American widower whose daughter never comes home one night.
His set of skills is that, unlike a lot of guys of a certain age, he’s not stumped by contemporary social media. If his daughter never shared her Facebook password with him, he can figure out how to get it.
My guess is that the screenwriters Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty might have got the inspiration from a locally famous 2009 incident that I’ve mentioned before, as in “Gold Chain Murder,” in which one Armenian youth was killed by another Armenian youth in the North Hollywood Sears parking lot in a stupid beef over an insulting text message. (One scene in “Searching” was filmed at the Regency $3 movie theater right across the street from the crime scene.) The killer sped off in a black BMW.
From the LA Times in 2011:
In the months after his son’s death, Art Yepremyan lost hope that police would find a suspect. He hired Nazarian, and together they began identifying individuals they believed might have been involved based on relationships with Jurian, Vardanian and others. They created a list of hundreds using online social networking sites and other sources, then began honing that list.
Armenian Americans hail from all over world, but the construction of their last names can reflect their origins.
Art Yepremyan, an Armenian immigrant himself, said he isolated names that could be traced to Armenia, where he believed his son’s killer was from. Using connections from that country, he further narrowed the names down to families that lived in a particular neighborhood there, where he believed the killer’s family had lived.
In an interview in his backyard last year, he scrawled a haphazard web of links from one supposed suspect to another. As unconventional as his methods may have been, he identified Manjikian as the man he thought killed his son, the same man the LAPD eventually accused.
The killer was tracked down lying low in a Puerto Rico beach town. But when he was arrested, the PR judge ignored the LAPD’s request and granted him $50k bail, which he promptly skipped out on. But eventually he got arrested and convicted.
I’m not accusing Ohanian, a Los Angeles native whose first film was entitled “My Big Fat Armenian Family,” and Chaganty of lifting their plot from this heavily reported North Hollywood true story. I didn’t notice any overlap of details. It’s just that the basic idea of a father delving into teen social media to discover what happened to his child is a great one and I’m glad that they executed it so well.
The entire movie is shown via screens, such as Facetime conversations and local news helicopter coverage of crime scenes. It was produced by the Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (2004’s “Night Watch“) who had a hugely profitable hit with the “screenlife” “Unfriended” and was looking for another screenplay that could be made in the same genre.
This sounds gimmicky, but it’s really well done. The film starts off with an 8 minute montage of a family’s videos saved on an old Windows XP PC, modeled on the famous opening montage in Pixar’s “Up,” that start off happily but turn tragic as the mom is diagnosed with lymphoma.
The filming of the live action scenes with Cho and Debra Messing as the detective only took 13 days, but then Will Merrick and Nicholas D. Johnson worked for a year on the screen effects and editing. You can’t actually film off of a screen for theatrical release because even 4K resolution is too coarse for a giant movie theater screen. So Merrick and Johnson created everything in resolution-independent Adobe.
But this gave them time to make sure that the seemingly extraneous screen space devoted to ads and teasers contributes to the plot in various ways. It might be a better movie to watch at home with the remote control in hand so you can freeze frame and read everything else that’s going on on screen besides the main action. In particular
I actually guessed WhoDunnIt about halfway through. Pay attention to the name of the animal that provides the team name of the daughter’s high school. But the main reason I guessed right was a shot that struck me as an aesthetic invocation of a very famous movie by the most classic director of thrillers.