Thursday, 27 September 2018

Film Review - A Simple Favor (15)

Oh you don't want to be friends with me, trust me.
Now here's a film that turned out to be not what I'd expected. A Simple Favor (that's Favour here in the UK) was marketed as a stylish suburban mystery-thriller. Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively it purported to reveal the 'dark side' of director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy). And while there are some very dark elements to the movie, it's notable also for its humour - sly, satirical, goofball at points - something barely hinted at in the trailers. Whenever you think you have the genre-combination pinned down, it ups and changes into something else entirely.
Kendrick is at the centre of it all as Stephanie, a food-vlogging single suburban mom - perky and enthusiastic to the point of desperation. The friendship she strikes up at the school-gate with fellow mom Emily (Lively) is a bizarre pairing. Emily is a glamorous, gin-swilling PR executive, with a reckless approach to both life and parenting, and a scathing sense of humour (that's 'humor' there in North America). But Stephanie's instant new BFF is a power-dressed and svelte nest of secrets. And when she agrees to look after Emily's son for an afternoon - the favor of the title - events take a swift and sinister turn.
It's the first twist of many, but what makes this film remarkable is the way its tone shifts along with its plot from one moment to the next. What starts off as an acidic social comedy switches into a detective drama with overtones of Hitchcockian paranoia, exploding at points into out-and-out farce. It's less a genre fusion than an all-out gloves-off scrap to see which genre will come out on top. And with the Bridesmaids director on board the outrageous moments of visual comedy threaten to overpower all else as the story develops. It's a messy business, with the darker aspects of certain characters' back stories not explores as effectively as they otherwise might have been, and with sudden mood-lurches undercutting the tension.
What rescues the movie from disaster and elevates it into something genuinely entertaining is the performances of the two leads. Kendrick takes a potentially infuriating character and makes you root for her through a combination of Nancy Drew-style investigative spirit and fumbling self-doubt. (Her Emily girl-crush knocks her off-kilter to truly hilarious effect.) Lively meanwhile presents Emily as a force of nature, eating up the screen every time she's on it with her brash, foul-mouthed, scary-sexy persona. The electricity between them fairly crackles, more so than the scenes with Emily's husband Nick (Henry Golding of recent Crazy Rich Asians fame). There's an additional scattering of enjoyable comic cameos, but this is all about the girlmance (it's a word, I checked) and its knock-on effect.
A Simple Favor benefits from its lightening pace and escalating rate of hairpin plot curves. (The final act risks a kind of mental whiplash.) It's also an undeniably unique viewing experience with all its tonal gear-shifts, and might have been a classic if director Feig had managed them more smoothly. Thankfully he had those two feisty and funny actresses along for the ride. It makes for an unexpectedly riotous trip.
Gut Reaction: The premise suggests Gillian Flynn-type suspense, but my overriding response was raucous laughter.

Where Are the Women?: In addition to the inspired Blake and Anna pairing, screen-writer Jessica Sharzer adds welcome pith and edginess to the dialogue.

Ed's Verdict: 7/10. Set aside expectations and this was a very satisfying couple of hours. All over the bleedin' place, but with admirably full-throttle performances to keep it on track.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Film Review - Crazy Rich Asians (12A)

They're so posh and snobby - they're snoshy!
Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel by Kevin Kwan and - as I write - is storming its way through the international box office. It's the crowd-pleasing rom-com of this and quite a few preceding years, while also being the first Hollywood studio movie since 1993's The Joy Luck Club to feature an (almost) exclusively Asian cast. This film is as colourful as the poster suggests and awash with all the crazy richness of the title. And then some. I'll get back to that.
The story centres on Rachel Chu, a young and brilliant economics professor in New York, invited to a wedding in Singapore by her boyfriend Nick Young. Their romance is blooming, but there's one topic on which Nick hasn't been entirely honest - the fact that he comes from generations of accumulated mega-wealth, enough to make Rachel's head spin. Plus as heir to the Young family business, he's also one of the most eligible bachelors in Singapore. It makes Rachel the object of intense scrutiny, not least from Nick's formidable mother Eleanor, a matriarch with fierce opinions regarding who her son should (and shouldn't) consider marrying.
There's something reminiscent in Crazy Rich Asians of those wealth-porn TV shows of the 1980s - Dallas and Dynasty only here the effect is even more extreme. Once the central couple touch down in Singapore, palatial splendour bounces from the screen in every frame. The experience is one of having your cake and eating it. On the one hand the film satirises the snobbery, bitchiness and arrant materialism of the country's landed rich, with Rachel's disbelief keeping us a step removed from it all. But equally we're stunned by and encouraged to enjoy the sheer opulence on display, to salivate over how this sub-set of humanity lives. Even the cinematography has a rich quality, complimenting what's on view - whether the glitz of the younger crowd or the exquisite taste of the Young family mansion. The direction meanwhile keeps things zipping along, slowing down at points to focus on the story's intriguing central confrontation.
Constance Wu is a radiant lead and an emotional centre in the midst of all the OTT glamour. She brings dignity and heart to Rachel, and the script allows her to be proactive in sorting out her own romantic destiny. Model-turned-actor Henry Golding has enough charisma as Nick to spark a genuine sense of connection, while Michelle Yeoh turns her performance as his mother into a career high-point (up there with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). As Eleanor she is frostily imperious - more formidable in her quiet disapproval than if she ever raised her voice. It's the story's dramatic core and a fascinating show-down between old-money attitude and aspiring professional self-belief, between indigenous Asians and so-called 'bananas' (white on the inside) who have embraced Western culture. 
As for the com required to compliment the rom, it comes from all the swipes at rich folk and their sense of entitlement, but also courtesy of some riotous performances. Nico Santos is a flamboyantly camp Young-family cousin who sweeps to Rachel's aid, while Awkwafina (the kooky skateboarding one out of Ocean's 8) makes serious moves towards stealing the film as Rachel's fast-talking best friend Goh Peik Lin. Full of hilarious unfiltered opinions - and part of an impressively taste-free nouveau riche family - she makes serious moves with limited screen time to steal the whole damn film. I kept wondering when she'd next be on screen.
Crazy Rich Asians has been accused of ignoring Singapore's wealth divide, but in fairness that's a whole other movie - maybe one that needs making. This is primarily a Cinderella story with a fresh and exotic setting and a heroine who can take care of herself, once she has stopped being dazzled by all the sparkle surrounding her. It's big, it's ritzy, it's a multi-course visual banquet - but it's earthed by a surprising amount of heartfelt emotion. And for the frothy feel-good movie of 2018, that's pretty commendable.
Gut Reaction: Kind of swamped by all the crazy riches on show, but totally entertained and surprisingly invested in the characters by the end (which packed quite the emotional wallop).

Where Are the Women?: All over it and looking glam. For Wu and Awkwafina this is star-making stuff. For Yeoh it's a reminder of what a class act she already is.

Ed's Verdict: 8/10. A part of me rebelled against the gratuitous revelling in riches, but ultimately this was irresistible. Glossy escapism for sure, but with enough wit, charm and irony to make it truly memorable. 

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Film Review - The Children Act (12A)

Life is more important than dignity.
Writer Ian McEwan appears to be on a bit of a mission. The Children Act is the second of his novels to be adapted for the screen this year (On Chesil Beach was the other one) and in both cases he has carried out the adapting himself. He has a knack for it too. His stories delve too deep into the mental processes of key characters to make screen-writing simple, but in both films he provides enough clues to suggest why these individuals behave as they do. Of course it helps to have an accomplished actress filling the lead role - and in this case it's Emma Thompson doing the heavy lifting.
Her character, Fiona Maye, is a High Court judge who makes rulings on ethically convoluted and emotionally charged situations involving children. The demands of the job are fierce, taking a grim toll on her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci). Their relationship hits crisis point in the form of a startling ultimatum from the husband, just as Fiona is about to preside over a characteristically fraught courtroom drama. The case involves Adam Henry, a dangerously ill teenage lad, who along with his Jehovah's Witness parents is refusing the blood transfusion that might save his life on grounds of religious faith. With the boy some months shy of his eighteenth birthday, the final decision falls to the judge. This confluence of events has repercussions in Fiona's life that she could never have foreseen.
One of the things that The Children Act does best is to balance points of view along with audience sympathies. There's no one person wholly to blame for the Mayes' marriage woes; even with Jack's radical statement of intent, it's difficult to take one partner's side over the other. Likewise the frustration of the medical professionals wanting to treat Adam may be tangible, but the parents' religious convictions (sympathetically expressed by Ben Chaplin as the dad) are allowed to make sense in their own terms. Even in the unexpected developments of the film's final act, the motivations behind certain questionable actions are fuelled by an undeniable kind of logic. At all points this is a story of conflicting ideas, impulses and duties.
At the heart of it all is Thompson's superb performance, arguably the high-point of her career to date. She balances tough-mindedness with empathy, exhibiting hints of vulnerability that become more pronounced as the story progresses. It's the best kind of acting - the type that suggests far more emotion than is openly expressed, feelings that lurk under the surface even in Fiona's most professionally reserved moments. Tucci radiates a complimentary sense of depth in his supporting role, while Fionn Whitehead (the closest thing to a protagonist in Dunkirk) is a genuine revelation. As young Adam he is innocent and impassioned, naive yet wise beyond his years. His scenes with Thompson have a strange emotional charge to them that intensifies to a near-extraordinary level.
The Children Act is classic McEwan storytelling - polished and undeniably middle-class-professional, but full of deep-seated and believable angst. There's raw emotion in the movie's gut, however intellectual its spine. There's also an irrefutable logic to the direction in which the story goes, and yet you'll be hard-pushed to guess exactly where that will be. All you can do is watch and hope, as these very real and fallible humans struggle with the unexpected twists in their lives. There are no good guys and bad guys here, just tough situations where the head ends up battling with the heart. And that makes for one powerful viewing experience.
Gut Reaction: Absorbed from the start, and riveted every time Emma and Fionn shared the screen. Oh, and genuinely concerned about where it was all going.

Where Are the Women?: Aside from Thompson's cerebral but empathetic main character, Nikki Amuku-Bird is very good as the Henry family solicitor.

Ed's Verdict: 8/10. The Children Act is the kind of intelligent and emotionally complex drama we simply don't see enough of on the big screen. Terrific stuff.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Film Review - The Nun (15)

What's the opposite of a miracle, Father?
Hear my confession - I was possessed by high hopes when I went to see The Nun. These were born of two sources. Firstly I'd heard good things about the Conjuring films and knew that this new movie served as a kind of prequel to those Amityville-style tales of the paranormal. Secondly I'd seen the trailer on four occasions (it's a film-reviewing hazard) and been launched out of my seat by the same jump-scare every damn time. Surely these were all signs - divine or otherwise - of the dark delights in store... Alas my faith went sadly unrewarded.
The nun in question haunts a grim, secluded convent in 1950s Romania - a cursed location (isn't it ironic?), or so local villagers would have it. When one of the sisters takes her own life, the papal authorities send in Father Burke, expert on occult manifestations, to investigate. He is accompanied by Sister Irene, a young noviciate nun, whose childhood visions have uniquely prepared her for this kind of spiritual inquiry. On arrival they find - well - all kinds of mad Satanic shenanigans going on, including one nasty-habited apparition with malign intentions and terrifying powers. And that's only their first night there...
My disappointment with The Nun stemmed from very specific expectations. I was hoping for a Woman in Black-style slice of Gothic - heavy on atmosphere, but sparing with its moments of explicit horror. A movie that has the patience to create a something genuinely haunting. The locations are authentic enough, particularly the austere, mist-shrouded convent, and there are moments of promise where the camera lingers on some unsettling image, dread seeping into the audience's pores. The dread never gets bone-deep though. All too soon the movie bursts into fully-fledged monster horror, at which point the mood is shattered, never to be recovered again.
The underlying problem is the premise's sheer flimsiness - a ghost of an idea lifted from the Conjuring universe and provided with no narrative guts or even its own internal logic. In the absence of coherent plot a potentially chilling tale is turned into a cheap scare-fest, each outlandishly ghoulish moment having to be topped by the next in an effort to sustain interest. It torpedoes the suspense - repeatedly so. Exposition is crowbarred in via Father Burke's mutterings as he leafs through an arcane occult book, or by an ancillary character popping up to tell us stuff. It's never allowed to unfold organically. Once a 'portal' into some other supernatural realm is mentioned, you know we've left the relatable world behind, waving bye-bye to anything remotely frightening as we go.
Oh, and the tone is all over the place too. We don't need to know that Irene is a progressively modern, feisty kind of novice who loves kids and believes that dinosaurs were real, nor do we require a comic relief character in the form of delivery guy Frenchie, with his misplaced one-liners and their knack of draining tension from the most fraught situation. What we do need is for both characters and situation to be as authentic as the setting, so that the scares (including the artfully constructed shock-moment from the trailer) carry real impact.
If you like your demonic horror grounded in a chilling reality The Exorcist still provides the template. Having said that, I'm going to check out both Conjuring instalments based on that good word of mouth. I'm just sorry its ecclesiastical offshoot turned out to be such an irredeemable mess.
Gut Reaction: A few early frissons, replaced by a gradual sad realisation that this was not the film I'd anticipated - or anything close.

Where Are the Women?: Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of The Conjuring's Vera) is a winning lead deprived of anything worthwhile to do. Same old story...

Ed's Verdict: 3/10. A half-baked hotchpotch, although in fairness it has a few effectively creepy moments. I scored Winchester higher, but this was no worse. I won't make this a habit, but consider Winchester downgraded.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Feature - 10 Memorable Cinema Experiences (Filmic Forays 2-Year Anniversary)

The whole of life is just like watching a film. Only it's as though you always get in ten minutes after the big picture has started, and no-one will tell you the plot, so you have to work it out all yourself from the clues. Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures.
The late great Terry P got it right, and I think he helps explain why we still embrace 'moving pictures' as an entertainment form. Stories have always been there to help make sense of life - to provide structure where none might otherwise exist. And cinema supplies us with those tales in a neat two-ish-hour format, so we can swallow them in a single sitting and digest them at our leisure. (I explore cinema's virtues in the age of Netflix a bit more fully... HERE.)
It's been precisely two years since I brought this blog into being with the words 'Let there be a blog called Ed's Filmic Forays'. To celebrate, here are ten memorable cinema experiences I've had in ten different cinemas - nights in the dark with friends and strangers (steady!) that socked me with one of those great, life-enhancing stories. These are not necessarily my all-time favourite movies, although some here might make it onto that list. Nor does it include home viewing. I'm sticking to examples where I remember the theatre, who I was with, whether or not I bought pick'n'mix - the whole deal, along with the film itself. Let's get started.
1. Superman - Iveagh Cinema, Banbridge, Northern Ireland.
The Iveagh was the local cinema of my childhood, only it wasn't particularly local for non-drivers. (Opposite is what it looked like in the 1970s/80s.) Cinema trips were occasional and this was one of the first. The ticket lady there was crabby enough to feature in a Roald Dahl novel and the guy who ran the concessions stall was borderline catatonic. It had sticky carpets and the letters in the electronic sign outside never worked all at the same time. (At one stage the 'I' and the 'V' crapped out, so that it read 'EAGH' in the dark, which was actually quite descriptive of the interior.) I loved it nonetheless, because it was my local fleapit, and because I saw films there like the original Christopher Reeve Superman.
Now that was an enthralling night at the pictures. I remember one of the reels was knackered, so that the planet Krypton became all crackly and blotchy for a while. However the storytelling was magnificent, Reeve and Margot Kidder were engaging, and I did believe a man could fly - or even reverse time by flying fast enough around Earth to reverse its orbit, when his human girlfriend had shockingly died in an earthquake. That's the power of cinema - to make us accept the unutterably ludicrous and have us smiling as we do it.

2. King Kong (1933) - Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast.
The entrance featured in the photograph here is that of the new, lavishly renovated Queen's Film Theatre. During my student days it was a rather dingy establishment, one you had to approach via a badly-lit alleyway, prior to queueing outside in the rain. There were two screens, one of which was in a university lecture theatre complete with writing desks - useful if you're a reviewer I suppose, but not otherwise conducive to a great cinematic experience. However I was introduced to many great films there, including the original King Kong.
It was screened during a Friday late-night season of classics sponsored by Guinness - black and white movies, accompanied by a black and white drink. See? I was exhausted after a long week of... studying, and to my shame fell asleep during the climactic sequence at the top of the Empire State Building. When I awoke Kong was falling to ground, having been shot by those damn fighter pilots. I blame my blacking-out on the main theatre's gorgeously comfy seats, one of its better features even back then. Today's QFT is an all-round pleasant movie-going experience, one which I strongly recommend when you're in Belfast. I saw The Shape of Water there earlier this year and it was splendid being back.

3. Se7en - Curzon Cinema, Belfast.
The Curzon was a family-run independent cinema on Belfast's Ormeau Road - no longer in existence, but remembered fondly by a generation of Ormeau cinema-goers. I only ever visited a handful of times and can't quite picture the interior. However I do recall watching Se7en there in early 1995, the film that had so completely ensnared public imagination. Few crime thrillers achieve such depths of dread or leave its audience so helplessly reeling.
Se7en steeps its audience in murk and grime from the beginning. It establishes its premise with some very squalid crime-scenes and then sets about undermining everything we might expect from a police procedural story. Several times it wrong-foots us wickedly, so that by the time it reaches that dreadful final act, we have an uneasy sense that any horror, however grim, is possible. I can't speak for the rest of the audience that night, but I had to go to the nearby Errigle Inn afterwards for a shot of single malt, I was so unnerved. 'What's in the box?' Dear God, will we ever forget? A sublimely hellish night at the movies.

4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy - Movie House Yorkgate, Belfast.
My dear old dad surprised me over Christmas 2001 by saying that he'd be interested in find out what all the fuss was regarding this new Tolkien film. Over three consecutive Decembers we went to the cinema at Yorkgate, to watch the Middle Earth trilogy in its big-screen glory. In every case I'd already seen the movie, but experienced it all vicariously via his reactions. He was dazzled on each occasion (wasn't everyone?), taking particular delight in The Two Towers, with its introduction of Gollum as a fully-fledged character and the battle of Helm's Deep.
On leaving the theatre following that second outing he discussed with some relish how the action had kept cutting between three different locations, like me in awe of its epic scope. In an age where we're swamped by cinematic spectacle, it's good to remember those moments when you could still be surprised by the scale of events unfolding before your eyes. And I'm glad we turned it into a father-son bonding experience. (Although having lunch beside a speaker at Belfast's Hard Rock Cafe that one time was a poor idea. Sorry, dad.)

5. Moulin Rouge - The New Mission Theatre, San Francisco.
In a moment of serendipity I ended up watching Baz Luhrmann's tragi-romantic musical in a cinema almost as plush as the Moulin Rouge itself. It was a glorious backdrop (re-opened post renovation as the Alamo Drafthouse), one where you felt you were still in the movie until you'd left the theatre. The atmosphere was electric too - one of those wonderful group experiences, where you're either all laughing or in hushed silence together. And the truly spellbinding moment was the one where Ewan McGregor gave up comically stammering the lyrics of Your Song and burst into full-throated musical voice.
One moment the audience was in an uproar of laughter, the next... transfixed along with Nicole Kidman by a moment of transcendent romance. It was stupendous. I went to see it again when back in Belfast weeks later, to find out if the New Mission experience had been a one-off, but the audience reacted in identical fashion. Belter of a moment - in an audacious, sublime film. 

6. A.I. Artificial Intelligence - Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood.
I think it was still called 'Mann's' when I was there - I know it's reverted to its original name of 'Grauman's Chinese Theatre' since then. At any rate it's the most grandiose and touristy theatre I've ever visited, with its Hollywood Boulevard address and Disneyesque oriental architecture. I didn't get to see a fancy premiere though, just a regular screening of the Spielberg science-fairytale. A.I. was a story of suitably grand ambition for the venue. The bold Steven picked up the threads of a story developed by late Stanley Kubrick and forged a science-fiction fairytale that started small and kept branching out ever-larger with each succeeding act.
It's an often brilliant dystopian fable full of fascinating ideas and allusions to both Pinocchio and Frankenstein. I still have mixed feelings about the movie as a whole (adventurous storytelling, problematic ending); but the guy who stood up during the end credits and proclaimed 'That movie sucked' before walking out clearly didn't. Bad cinema etiquette, but undeniably concise film criticism. Good lesson there.

7. Memento - Watershed, Bristol, UK.
Good beer, good nachos, great selection of films. I've been to Watershed a handful of times in my life and have never seen a dud. The high-point was the night I watched Memento there, even though I was struggling to follow its temporally-reversed plot (I had to ask my movie-pal to help me piece it all together afterwards).
This was my introduction to the work of Christopher Nolan and it's still probably my favourite out of anything he's done, even after his Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and the marvel that was Dunkirk. An atmospheric modern-noir mind bender and an intriguing exploration of how identity relates to memory. Watershed was the perfect relaxing atmosphere in which to enjoy it. I mean look at the place. It's flipping gorgeous!

8. Slumdog Millionaire - Vue Cinema, Thurrock.

I don't have a great deal to say about the venue - it's your generic Vue branch and isn't required to be anything more. The reason I went there was because my friend had snagged some tickets from the SeeFilmFirst website for a preview of some little film called Slumdog Millionaire. It was set in India apparently and connected to the 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' TV quiz show. 
There's so much to be said for going in blind to see a movie - pre-preview, pre-buzz, pre-awards -
with no expectations, good or bad. I didn't even know that Danny Boyle had directed it until the end, although that made sense in retrospect with all the edgy kinetic stuff happening on screen. Everything about this story was fresh and/or startling, though it certainly wasn't (as one poster subsequently stated) 'the feel-good movie of the year'. It was sometimes grim, sometimes heart-wrenching, occasionally magical. And it benefitted from taking me totally by surprise. I wish I could have more of that.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road - Odeon Cinema, Chatham.
Chatham Odeon is my local. If I want to see more esoteric arthouse stuff, I'm forced to seek it out elsewhere, but this cinema serves my mainstream entertainment needs splendidly. I know all the gang there; the Costa Coffee baristas even know my drink - double espresso, particularly if I'm flagging after a long week. No coffee was required, however, when viewing 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road. If it wasn't the best cinema experience of my life, it was certainly the loudest.
Watching the re-envisioned Mad Max was like sitting next to the speaker at a death-metal concert inside a gigantic carburettor. My cinema-partner actually took refuge under a coat and didn't come out until the end credits rolled. I think I enjoyed it, but there was an endurance factor as well, it was so relentlessly bombastic, pummelling its audience visually and aurally throughout most of its running time. It's made with undeniably quality and a noteworthy commitment to real effects over the computer kind, but it also nearly beat me unconscious. I think I need to watch it again at home sometime, under more controlled conditions.

10. Some Film I Haven't Seen Yet - Some Cinema, Somewhere.
The venue matters less, although I love a richly upholstered olde-worlde cinema with a magnificent entry-way and tangible sense of history. What matters of course is what's on screen - whether multi-million dollar or micro-budget, mainstream or niche, pulse-pounding or subtle. It's only a matter of time till that next great movie experience - now there's an enlivening thought. Maybe it'll be Beautiful Boy or First Man. Widows or Susperia. Mary Queen of Scots or Bohemian Rhapsody. Something to reaffirm my faith in the power of moving pictures one more time. Whatever the title, I'll tell you all about it (well not all - let's keep things spoiler-lite) here at Filmic Forays. Until then, happy viewing. And Happy 2-Year Anniversary to me. Now what can I go see to celebrate?

Friday, 7 September 2018

Film Review - Searching (12A)

I didn't know her. I didn't know my daughter.
Searching tells a well-worn story, but in a vital new way - one that gives it sharp contemporary relevance. Like the recent Unfriended: Dark Web it uses a 'laptop screen' format - a tale told through and about modern electronic media. Whereas the Unfriended horror franchise keeps tightly within the bounds of real-time online experience, Searching expands the technique using a variety of screens (chiefly but not exclusively home computers) to create a taut suspense thriller. It also gets under its central character's skin as effectively as most conventional dramas.
John Cho plays David Kim, a widowed father, whose teenage daughter Margot fails to return from school. As panic incrementally mounts, he begins to quiz Margot's acquaintances and to scour her social media for clues as to where and why she might have gone. Working alongside police detective Rosemary Vick (Will and Grace's Debra Messing), he realises - maybe too late - how far he has drifted from understanding his own child and what is going on in her life.
On one level this is a classic missing-persons thriller of the type TV drama Without a Trace told week-to-week. There's the build of ticking-clock urgency, the plot mis-direction, the head-butting between desperate parent and police professional. What sets it apart is the consistently inventive filtering of events through numerous visual media; face-timing, instant messaging, Youtube videos and news footage all play a role in the unfolding drama. It's tightly edited and coherent at all points, shaped into something both unique and genuinely cinematic. And the issues at its heart turn the movie's style into more than just a gimmick.
Searching deals with the phenomenon of lives recorded online; its introductory montage (reminiscent of the opening to Pixar's Up) establishes the entire Kim family history. The computer record proves utterly familiar, a startling reminder of how tightly our lives are interwoven with new media. And that's before events take a dark turn. Margot's inner teen-life finds its natural outlet online so that when she goes missing, the clues to her disappearance lie mostly there, rather than at any real-world location. As with Unfriended: Dark Web, this is an examination of virtual interactions resulting in real-life consequences. It's only natural then that the story's intriguing detective element takes place via computer. Add to that some smirk-inducing satire of broader online culture and you have a perfect fusion of style with substance. 
Particular credit goes to Cho (Mr Sulu from the Star Trek cinema reboot); his performance as the baffled and despairing father convinces, even under computer face-time's unforgiving scrutiny. That camera gets up close and uncomfortably personal, so there's no room for faking. One of the film's key strengths, in fact, is its characters' believability as observed through multiple digital formats - as when Detective Vick blearily takes a middle-of-the-night Skype call. It's a factor reinforced by the accuracy with which everything on-screen is conveyed. The story persuades with its attention to detail, selling the narrative's most extravagant twists.
There'll be an inevitable moment during Searching, when you'll become aware of how much time you spend in front of computer screens and that you're effectively passing your evening by staring at a super-sized version. That the writing-directing team make the experience both authentic and a riveting piece of suspense cinema is impressive. If you end up fixating on a cinema-screen-sized cursor, whispering 'He's not going to close the window, is he? Is he?', then this experiment in tension is doing something very right. 
Gut Reaction: Not just feeling tension (though the film provokes and sustains that expertly). Moved as well by the poignant family story behind the suspense. 

Where Are the Women?: Messing finds depth in her cop character, while Michelle La makes a nicely-judged film debut as troubled daughter Margot.

Ed's Verdict: 7.5/10. First-time feature-director Aneesh Chaganty makes a great entrance with this wrong-footing tech thriller, where every scrap of e-info counts. It's innovative storytelling, that will have parents wondering what the hell their kids are really getting up to online.