Movie Review: Searching

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Widower David (John Cho) surfs the Web to find his missing daughter in the clever, white-knuckling thriller Searching. (Source: The Atlantic)

Having a movie set entirely from the point-of-view of a computer screen is nothing new. 2015’s Unfriended was what started it all off. The technique might sound like a gimmick, but it hasn’t been used more effectively than in Searching. The sleeper hit from Sundance (taking home the Alfred P. Sloan Award), and directorial debut from Aneesh Chagnaty, contains no supernatural beings or jump scares. Just the right amount of pure thrills and a heart at its core whether it’s from a computer screen, smartphone screen, or surveillance footage. It’s something Alfred Hitchcock would be impressed with.

David Kim (John Cho) is a widower, whose wife (Sarah Sohn, in video footage) passed away from lymphoma, loves spending time looking through old home videos and photos of her and his daughter Margot (Michelle La). Raising her into her teenage years has been difficult for David, since she is spending too much time either with her friends, taking piano lessons, or on social media. One day, David hasn’t been receiving any messages from her. He goes onto her laptop in search for clues on where Margot might have went. Along with San Jose Police Detective Rosemary Vice (Debra Messing), he becomes shocked to learn the truth of Margot’s disappearance.

According to a recent study, 95% of teenagers–aged 13 to 17–own a smartphone and more than half use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without smartphones. It’s no surprise today’s young generation is spending more time on the Internet than interacting face-to-face. Shot in 13 days and edited in two years, Chagnaty and his crew have done a marvelous job using modern technology to build up suspense. Filled with so many twists and turns, it keeps audiences guessing until the very end.

Cho is brilliant as David desperately looking for answers. It’s hard not to feel bad for him trying to communicate with the only living person he loves. Along with every character, his actions say so much even on the webcam. Messing has never been better!

Searching is an instant cult classic that everyone will be discussing for years. Such a shame it didn’t receive a lot of attention. If you missed it in theaters, it’s definitely worth checking out on Redbox.

3.5/4

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Movie Review: The Nun

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Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) hears something in the darkness in The Nun. (Source: Variety) 

James Wan made two of the best horror movies in recent memory with The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2. He brought the true scary stories to pure life and not only scaring audiences but having them discussing the movies following Ed and Lorraine Warren investigating paranormal activity–from Rhode Island to London. It focused on the atmosphere and the risks these two characters make as opposed to cheap thrills. That’s the case with 2014’s Annabelle, a ventriloquist doll so creepy in the first film took a turn for the worse.

The Conjuring universe has decided to give another creepy entity its own spin-off. Unfortunately, The Nun, directed by Corin Hardy, is another disappointment.

The year is 1952. In a Romanian abbey, two Catholic nuns are attacked by an entity in the form of a nun (Bonnie Aarons). Sister Victoria (Charlotte Hope) ends up committing suicide by hanging herself. Meanwhile, the Vatican hears about the incident and sends Father Burke (Demian Birchir), an expert in exorcism, and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, the sister of Vera) to investigate. With the help of a French-Canadian farmer (Jonas Bloquet), they arrive at the abbey unprepared for what’s in store.

This is the only film in the universe that feels brief and unfinished. It’s filled with cheap scares and forced humor. While the acting is tolerable at best, their motivations aren’t given enough depth. With a semi-promising start, it’s bogged down by a shaky third act. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography, while gorgeous, doesn’t quite give the movie enough atmosphere.

The Nun does have its moments. One of the only genuinely creepy scenes in the movie is where Father Burke is buried alive in a coffin after witnessing the strong entity. Farmiga gives an impressive performance as a rookie who has yet to receive her vows (shouldn’t she received them before going on that trip?) Her supernatural visions are the main reason she goes to the Romanian mountains. Other than that, I suggest waiting for The Conjuring 3.

1.5/4

Movie Review: The Wife

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Joan (Glenn Close) congratulates her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) in The Wife. (Source: Tulsa World)

Glenn Close has been one of the most beloved actresses of all-time. She received six Oscar nominations, including ones for Fatal Attraction, The Natural, Dangerous Liaisons, and Albert Nobbs. But–she didn’t win a single one. In The Wife, based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same, she plays the titular role who has been holding secrets for years. It’s about time for her to shine!

Joan (Close) and Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) have been happily married–and living in a gorgeous home in Connecticut–for about 40 years. They have two grown children–Susannah (Alix Wilton Regan), who is pregnant with her first child, and Danny (Max Irons), who is insecure for his father. They receive a phone call informing Joe has been selected to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. On their way to the big Swedish city, they encounter writer Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), who is a big fan Joe’s writing. Joan begins to learn about the secrets Joe has kept ever since the 1950s, where she was a young writing student (Annie Starke, the real-life daughter of Glenn Close) at Smith College, and young Joe (Harry Lloyd) was her professor. They begin a love affair, in which would eventually become a long marriage.

There has never been a performance this year more spectacular than Close’s. Joan is a woman who, like her husband, is a writer and loves to edit stories, despite living in a world where the occupation is mostly dominated by men. In one scene, she has dinner with Nathaniel at a cafe. He has an idea of writing a biography of Joe Castleman, in which Joe doesn’t approve. Take note of her subtle facial expressions. While her climactic confrontation with her husband showcases how brilliant her performance is, her body language says so much.

Pryce also delivers a strong performance as Joe, the writer who might be suffering from dementia. For instance, he doesn’t remember the name of one of his iconic characters. Like Joan, he has been holding secrets from her.  

Swedish director Björn Runge and screenwriter Jane Anderson dig deep into their long relationship. There are plenty of breathtaking aerial shots of snowy Stockholm, but what really shine is the use of the flashback. The more the audience knows about the couple’s crumbling marriage, the more they learn how and why. I particularly love the scene where a guest author (Elizabeth McGovern, of Downton Abbey fame, a small yet effective role) visits the college, and warns Joan to never get her hopes too high. It sets up the tone for what is going to come next.

While it does drag during the first half (not to mention the first five minutes being a little redundant) and it makes you want more once the credits start to roll, The Wife is worth seeing for Glenn Close alone. I’m hoping she finally wins an Oscar!

3/4