Movies set entirely on a computer screen are destined to be a micro-niche sub-genre, but while films like the Unfriended franchise are misfires in every way but commercially there a couple that succeed far better with the format. 2013’s The Den remains the best of the small bunch — yes, I’m still pimping its brilliance — but this year’s Searching is also well worth your time. It’s a frequently smart look at the divide between our online and offline worlds that also makes the sad and frightening observation that we can never truly know another person.
The film is new to Blu-ray and features a terrifically detailed and enlightening commentary track with the filmmakers. Their excitement over their debut is clear, and they share numerous secrets that add to the film’s enjoyment.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Commentators: Aneesh Chaganty (director/co-writer), Sev Ohanian (co-writer/producer)
1. That’s not the actual Windows XP desktop screen. They recreated it for the film.
2. They went into this knowing they couldn’t make a film set entirely on a computer screen cinematic so they immediately dug in with the emotional character beats in the opening ten minutes. “We knew we had to like beat the concept right off the bat and kind of show the audience the full potential of what we could do.” The opening details the beginning of Margot’s digital life on through her childhood and mother’s eventual death, and they refer to the sequence as “Up meets a Google commercial.”
3. They ensured that each app we see is visually accurate for the time/year in which we’re seeing it. “The internet research history that we had to do for this is insane.”
4. The first piece of foreshadowing hits at 4:13 when we see a Facebook comment from Robbie Abolt who is Detective Rosemary Vick’s (Debra Messing) creepy-ass son.
5. The photo of David (John Cho) and his daughter Margot (Michelle La) in front of her new high school features a sign saying the school is “Home of the Catfish.” It’s a reference to the documentary and term referring to someone impersonating someone else online in order to trick people… which is exactly what happens here. Easter egg!
6. There’s a background still from a soldering video at 7:00 which “is a hint to our next movie.”
7. One of the unrelated “subplots” carried through the film is a text conversation between David and a woman named Hannah Couch. It’s first glimpsed around 8:09 as she tells him she’d love to grab drinks with him again sometime soon.
8. The concert scene at 8:51 was filmed overseas in Moscow and is enough to warrant listing a Russian crew in the end credits.
9. The lead story glimpsed on the news site at 9:02 is foreshadowing the idea that people can survive for several days outside in the elements.
10. This same scene teases another “subplot” of sorts with a news headline about NASA and some strange electrical storms. If you follow it through the film it details the arrival of aliens and the government’s response.
11. There’s very little they’d change about the film now, but “making that jar of weed about 100 times smaller is 100% what I would do on a re-shoot.”
12. “Hide from Search Results” is not actually an option on Apple computers.
13. Many of the interiors were filmed in the same house including the police station, the brother’s house, the hospital scene, and more. The house was fully loaded, and they were thrilled with their find they thought was something special. “We shot in a porn house.”
14. The sports team is supposed to be the San Jose Sharks, but clearance rights required they rename them the Fins. “It turns out the Sharks were not interested in a later plot line when we used it to connect Uncle Peter with possible statutory rape.”
15. Robbie Abolt’s name appears again at 20:56 as a childhood contact of Margot’s, and the notes on the card say “parent in SVD, divorced family, had a crush on Margot.” That little prick.
16. The background windows and messages also reveal their love for M.Night Shyamalan whose movies helped inspire them. The biggest one comes at 31:13 in the photo of Margot eating lunch alone. The names of the people tagged in the pic are all lead characters from Shyamalan’s movies.
17. Editors Nick Johnson and Will Merrick “so exceeded” their normal duties that they were given a second credit as Directors of Virtual Photography.
18. Their script included a beat where David tries to use “Find my iPhone” to track Margot, but they never ended up filming it much to their regret.
19. The name Rosemary Vick is inspired by Rosemary’s Baby — about a woman who birthed the devil — and The Shield‘s Vic Mackey — a corrupt cop.
20. The two “teens” shaving one of their heads at 40:33 are actually the film’s editors “literally doing this in the bathroom of our editing suite.”
21. There’s no opportunity for camera coverage for the scenes as everything is a single camera webcam, but they still edited different takes together at times leaving only a tiny glitch behind. The scene where David enters his daughter’s room while she’s recording on YouCast is actually two takes spliced together.
22. When David calls Rosemary from the spot she asks him if he’s at the lake — something he never mentioned to her. I’m proud to say I noticed this while watching the film for the first time, but I’m ashamed to say I suspected it was sloppy writing/editing rather than a clue that she was dirty. Apologies to Chaganty and Ohanian!
23. The YouTube page at 58:03 features an Honest Trailers video on Searching in the bottom right corner.
24. The Gmail screen at 1:02:12 shows an email from Ohanian himself sharing his theory that Margot “was catfished by this Fish_N_Chips character who is no doubt the son of…” This, of course, is the actual reveal at the end of the film. This is probably my favorite thing in the movie.
25. The Fins sweater that David recognizes in the photo of Margot’s car is photo-shopped in as the actual photo featured a Fins lighter. Too many people in test audiences connected the lighter to Peter and to weed which undercut the idea that he was up to something more malicious than merely smoking with her.
26. Rosemary’s news conference at 1:14:47 suggesting Margot has been killed had to be zoomed slightly as the extra to the upper right started smiling.
27. The beat where we pull back from the memorial stream window as Rosemary takes her seat to reveal the giant close-up of David filling the webcam’s frame is referred to as “the King Kong shot.”
28. They spoil the premise to the video game Heavy Rain, so don’t listen if you’re still playing that game from 2010!
29. They filmed the movie in 13 days… and then edited it for a year and a half. “The proportion is very off.”
30. It was titled Search when it premiered at Sundance, but another studio has the title “registered with the MPAA in perpetuity” so they had to change it.
31. The legal department insisted they include text in the end credits saying the story and characters are all fictitious.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“We made this with like five people.”
“It is kind of funny that the family’s still using Windows XP in 2015.”
“Ooh we got some clues coming up!”
“John’s face in this sequence is so good.”
“Is the funeral company killing people to make money?”
Buy Searching on Blu-ray/DVD from Amazon.
As mentioned in the intro, this is a terrific commentary track that actually enhances the experience of watching the film. The density of background detail they provide is crazy, and it’s fascinating seeing the varied layers they’ve added into areas of the screen we’re not initially focused on. Searching is a very good movie with a great commentary. Give it a watch then give it a listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.