Thrillers get an update in 2018 when Searching hits movie theaters on August 3. Featuring John Cho and Debra Messing in the lead roles, the film focuses on a father’s desperate attempts to track down his missing daughter, Margot. During his extensive search, the father discovers that his daughter’s life may never have been what it appeared to be. He has to figure out who she was in order to ultimately find out what happened to her.

It’s a compelling if slightly familiar plot, but Searchings approach to the story sets it apart from everything else in the genre. The film is told entirely through the use of technology. As Margot’s father attempts to locate his daughter, he uses her laptop to study her social media usage and contact her school friends. Searching is unique because, if the action doesn’t happen in front of a computer or smartphone, we simply don’t see it.

A New Kind Of Thriller

[Credit: Screen Gems]

Much like the way Hereditary reinvigorated horror, and Love, Simon breathed new life into coming-of-age movies, Searching could lead to a new wave of thriller films all designed around the use of technology. While the found-footage storytelling conceit is familiar, and has even taken a back seat to other forms of horror and thriller storytelling in the past few years, the unique spin in Searching could very well change the genre.

We spend so much of our lives in front of screens. Whether we’re checking email, killing time with social media, or video-chatting with a loved one, technology is embedded into our lives and systems of communication. The process is very intimate. How often do you let someone use your phone? Maybe occasionally, to look something up. How often do you let them crawl through your personal communications? Probably never. So watching this man’s private conversations with his daughter, the police, and Margot’s unsuspecting friends, is odd, even unnerving.

Moreover, the fact that we’re watching these intimate and vulnerable moments without his knowledge makes it even more disturbing. The raw format is strangely invasive, which heightens the story’s tension and puts us right into the mindset of John Cho’s character as he digs through his daughter’s personal communications. We immediately know how strange this investigation would be, so Searching can focus on the characters.

The Bigger Picture

[Credit: Screen Gems]

The impact of Searching may not be exclusive to thrillers. If successful, this movie could transcend genre to spawn an entire genre of its own. The film may highlight some of the more unnerving aspects of technology and our reliance on digital communications, but it also uses that technology to tell a story.

In real life, technology is present and useful in ways that aren’t always immediately obvious. In shopping, driving, school,  dating, and simple video chats, many of us are heavy tech users in our day to day lives. We might not even realize it. A story, like Searching, based in our reliance on tech and software, could work in a variety of genre formats.

Searching could lead to a future of romcoms, love stories and science fiction tales that all follow in its footsteps, using technology to tell stories. From long-distance lovers to internet vloggers, there’s a whole array of characters who could benefit from Searching’s story format. Their narratives are just waiting to be created, and they could all start with this film’s success.

No matter what happens next, Searching is the first of its kind. Employing technology to produce a full narrative through webcams and smartphones adds an invasive vibe to an already-unnerving film, but could also lead to a future in which other films adopt a similar technique for very different, but still effective purposes.

Searching hits theaters on August 3, 2018.