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‘Searching’: John Cho-Starring Sundance Hit Included a Wild Alien Invasion Subplot

Nestled inside an already complex and scary "screen-based movie" is an entirely different story with global implications.

John Cho appears in Search by Aneesh Chaganty, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Juan Sebastian Baron.  All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.


Courtesy of Sundance Institute, photo by Juan Sebastian Baron

There’s so much going on in Aneesh Chaganty’s Sundance hit “Searching,” it stands to reason that even eagle-eyed viewers might miss some story elements of a movie occurring entirely on a computer screen. Like other “screen-based movies” (think “Unfriended” or “Profile”), “Searching” is packed with information that zooms past at a breakneck speed, and it’s up to the filmmakers to subtly push viewers to focus on the most essential items.

For the John Cho-starring film, those essential items follow the film’s central story, which sees Cho’s character David furiously attempting to locate his missing teenage daughter, aided by emails, social media channels, and live news reports. There’s plenty to unpack, but Chaganty’s film works extremely well, telling a compelling story in an inventive framework. But it seems that said framework is even more clever than initially believed, because inside all of the key information, there’s an entirely different subplot. Oh, and it’s about an imminent alien invasion.

io9 spoke with Sev Ohanian, the film’s co-writer and producer, about the unexpected subplot, which forms the basis of one of the film’s special features on its coming home release. “Like most amazing ideas, it started off entirely as a joke,” Ohanian told the outlet. That joke stemmed from Chaganty and Ohanian’s need to script not just their screenplay, but every single computer screen they wanted to include in the film. By Ohanian’s estimation, that meant writing a script that was nearly ten times as long as their initial 117 page draft.

“[The] joke was the idea that since we had to write a bunch of stuff anyway, maybe we could use the background of our movie to tell a completely separate plot from the main story,” Ohanian said. “Maybe something REALLY crazy, ‘like aliens, how funny would that be?’ Aneesh laughed at the idea. After a beat, I said, ‘No, but seriously Aneesh, what if we did it for real?’ And then Aneesh laughed even harder. And then I said, ‘Yeah I think we should definitely do an alien plot in the background of ‘Searching.'” And then Aneesh stopped laughing. I don’t think he’s laughed since.”

The alien invasion subplot is snuck into the already layered story of “Searching” via news posts, Facebook comments, and trending hashtags. Ohanian and Chaganty mapped it all out as they would any other scene in the film, and their process is at the center of the exclusive new video.

And while not every viewer picked up the global event occurring during the personal drama of “Searching,” Ohanian did point to the Reddit community, which caught wind of what was happening and started posting about it months ago. “I remember the comments on Reddit as people started to point this out. And that lead to quite a few people re-watching the film and posting all of their observations each time they saw it,” Ohanian said.

Head over to io9 to read the full story and to check out their exclusive video that further breaks down the alien invasion subplot.

“Searching” will be available on digital download November 13, with a Blu-ray release set for November 27.

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