Sundance 2018: Aneesh Chaganty's 'Search' is Incredible Storytelling
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2018
This isn't a new concept, but this is the film that is going to change everything. Search is a new film playing at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival that's told entirely through/with computer screens. Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, who also worked at the Google Creative Lab before making this film, sets a new precedent with Search and has made a groundbreaking, thrilling, incredible feature that will hopefully appeal to audiences of all kinds (not just computer geeks or horror fans or curious cinephiles). I know I can say for sure that I loved this film, everything about it impressed me, and it got to me emotionally as well. It's a reinvention of modern filmmaking and storytelling by using technology accurately and showing us just how much of our lives are on computers (and how some of our lives are still not digital, which makes for an intriguing twist).
Search stars John Cho as the father of a Korean family living in Silicon Valley. The film opens with Pixar-esque intro (think: Up) that gives us a history of his family and their daughter, Margot. He achieves this by showing the videos and photos being saved to the computer (and uploaded online) as their daughter grows up, and it feels real. There's an amusing evolution from Windows to Mac, because that's what happened to all of us over the last 10 years. He builds this emotional core into the film in a very authentic, endearing way - and this is vital because it's a thread that continues throughout. The characters are genuine, they have emotions, they have other sides to them, and this is what makes this film stand out. The story picks up when his daughter goes missing one day and he can't contact her - through either FaceTime calls and iMessages.
There's such an impressive amount of attention-to-detail put into this film. You have to imagine how hard it is to create entire computer screens and messages and calls and videos and photos, and add thousands of legitimate sound effects and a score on top of it. There's tons hidden within it - news pages with links and fake stories, entire address books filled with contacts, extensive web histories and searches, all on the real websites and apps that we all use. Every little last detail that connects into the story is perfect. It presents genuine thrills in a gripping story with real stakes that will get your complete and undivided attention as it plays out. All the computer stuff is legit and never a gimmick. They never have a video or a shot that might not really happen, and it all ties into the story at hand. Outstanding work from everyone involved in this.
There are two other films that have pulled off this computer screen concept before - the short film Noah from directors Walter Woodman & Patrick Cederberg, and the horror film Unfriended from director Levan Gabriadze. So technically Search isn't the first film like this, but I think it's the best so far. There's going to be everything before Search, and then everything after it. From here on out, Aneesh Chaganty has proven how this technology storytelling can work wonderfully with an emotionally resonate, deeply engaging film (and not some junky horror). John Cho's work is excellent and he brings an important amount of gravitas to the feature as well. And then on top of it all, the film has so much to say about our society, trolls, personal identity, our digital lives, and more. It's groundbreaking cinema and a film worth your time to experience.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing