There's a real sense of foreboding echoing through "Search Out" and its awkwardly aged protagonists. They're all in their late twenties but are they adults really? Joon-hyeok (played by Kim Sung-cheol) wants a decent job. Seong-min (played by Lee Si-eon) is trying to become a cop. But they're frustrated in these modest ambitions by an increasingly alienated and depressed cityscape, relying on each other for encouragement as they cope with constant internal doubt.
While "Search Out" has the trappings of a typical depressing independent film about youthful malaise the execution is surprisingly upbeat. While we see Joon-hyeok and Seong-min on the edge of depression, we also see that they're just barely able to keep ahead of their own crippling anxiety. So it comes as little surprise when these two generally unremarkable young men realize that an ominous online figure calling themselves Ereshkigal is preying on people like them, and somehow provoking them into committing suicide.
There are, surprisingly enough, no supernatural elements in "Search Out" as the action is grounded entirely in reality. This even as certain seemingly outrageous story elements suggest otherwise. Take Noo-ri (played by Heo Gayoon), the attractive yet curt female hacker who Joon-hyeok and Seong-min eventually approach for help. Even as her whole archetype screams stylish and cool, we see that Noo-ri is in a similarly realistic malaise as her peers. She engages in borderline criminal activity because, well, there's just no other way to make a living.
All of these elements really cut to the core of what depression is, and why Ereshkigal's sinister game promising to deliver significance to people's lives hits so hard. "Search Out" takes place in a world where people start out their twenties with big dreams that inevitably wither away into just mere persistence. Instagram exists in "Search Out" both as a plot point but also a metaphorical visage into the soul. People stare at Instagram posts to evade the emptiness in their hearts.
"Search Out" presents this observation as a simple matter of fact, without judgment. It views social networks as an opiate to make people feel less alone. They don't always work as well as it should. Even bearing in mind that Ereshkigal has a very concrete and explicitly unfair means by which to eventually provoke people into killing themselves, that's kind of the point. Life isn't fair. It wears people down. Hence why one good psychological stab to the heart can be enough to just shut a person down.
The story of Noo-ri slowly bonding with Joon-hyeok and Seong-min as the mystery unfolds is a critical parallel. We see all three of these characters be happy just venting, and letting their guard down a bit concerning their insecurities. Even putting themselves out there and vulnerable in the slightest way is scary. And while the conceit of Ereshkigal in the suicide investigation is an obviously extreme parallel to that, the point is well-taken. Depression isn't a one-off thing. Much like Ereshkigal itself, depression gains power over time, gorging itself on the hopelessness of its victims.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Search Out""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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