Aneesh Chaganty first picked up a camera when he was in middle school in San Jose, California, to make a short film he called The Boring Movie (“because it had no plot; it was about a guy who woke up and went about his day”). But it wasn’t till he saw director M Night Shyamalan in India West magazine that he considered turning his passion into a career. “It was just before Sixth Sense (1999) came out, and I saw someone like me, in an American magazine, doing something I wanted to do,” says the 27-year-old, whose directorial debut, Searching (in cinemas this month), tracks a desperate father’s attempt to find his missing child via every digital medium possible, including trying to hack into her accounts. It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it quickly became one of the biggest talking points, especially once Sony picked it up for global distribution for a cool five million dollars.
The film, starring John Cho and Debra Messing, sounds like a straight-up missing-persons thriller—except the story unfolds almost entirely on a computer screen, with certain parts playing out via security cameras and cellphones. The unusual choice of POV racks up the tension, as cursors hover and on-screen ellipses thrum along to your heartbeat.
John Cho in a still from Searching
Searching took 13 days to shoot and over a year and a half to edit. “Five twenty-somethings made it in a single edit room when no one believed in us. I was 25, and one of my two editors was 23,” he says. But he isn’t exactly a greenhorn: Seeds, a viral two-and-a- half-minute unofficial short he made for Google Glass in 2014, landed him a job at Google Creative Lab in New York City, where he developed, wrote and directed commercials. Is Chaganty issuing a warning on the dangers of technology with his dark debut? “I think it has been so badly represented—just look at Black Mirror. Sure, there’s some truth to it, but we need to zoom out a bit. Technology is like a hammer, it’s how you use it that matters—whether to create and construct, or destroy.”