Directed by Sophie Kargman from a screenplay she co-wrote with William Day Frank, Susie Searches is a drama/comedy thriller that tackles the obsession with true crime and the desperate need for personal connection in a digitally connected world. Led by Kiersey Clemons, who delivers a fantastic performance, Susie Searchesis an entertaining, engaging, and thrilling entry from Kargman. It has some trappings of a by-the-book crime drama, but it has quite a few great surprises and an ending that will leave audiences in awe of its execution.
Susie (Kiersey Clemons) is an awkward college student who is deeply into true crime. As a little girl, she loved solving the mysteries in the stories her mother (Jammie Patton) used to read her before she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Balancing her college workload with a food service job, a true-crime podcast, and caring for her mother, Susie struggles to make friends or gain followers online. All that changes, however, when Susie takes it upon herself to investigate the disappearance of her classmate Jesse (Alex Wolff).
The film explores loneliness and a lack of connection in a hyper-connected world, as well as the online persona one crafts for themselves and the difference between that and one's reality. Susie wants nothing more than attention, and she tries to form connections online — through her true-crime podcast and Twitter — but she struggles to be seen. In her everyday life, Susie lingers outside her university's social circles, and spends a lot of time by herself or caring for her mother. It's no wonder she relishes in the attention when she finds herself thrust into the limelight. Not only does her investigation lead her to acclaim, but she also gains a friend in Jesse.
Susie Searches is a spin on the true-crime dramas that audiences have become accustomed to watching while also attempting to subvert expectations. Similar to Hulu's popular TV seriesOnly Murders in the Building, the film explores why Susie is so drawn to the mystery involved with true crime, though it takes a different turn when it comes to podcasts, pointing towards how difficult it can be to find an audience despite there being so many fans of the genre. The film is clever in bringing its many twists to a natural climax. There is nothing contrived about Susie's situation or how the plot threads come together.
What's more, Susie is someone the audience will question while simultaneously rooting for her. There is a lot of sympathy embedded into the narrative and Susie has enough development that the story is able to balance her seemingly kind-hearted nature with her other, darker tendencies. Susie is so nuanced thanks to, in large part, Kiersey Clemons' performance. Clemons seamlessly balances Susie's awkwardness with her sense of vitality and need for connection. There are times one will deeply feel for Susie, while also being displeased and surprised by some of her actions. She and Alex Wolff have wonderful chemistry together and their budding onscreen relationship will have audiences torn regarding what happens. Wolff is earnest and sincere as Jesse, which works well due to some of the guilt that is laced into Clemons' portrayal of Susie. Jim Gaffigan, in a small but effective role, is endearing and understated as Sheriff Loggins.
All told, the film is a thriller that sometimes feels like it will go the conventional route, but isn't so quick to fall back into what's comfortable. Audiences will find themselves pulled into the story as they wonder what will happen. To that end, Susie Searches is quite gripping and equal parts entertaining. It's a fun and intriguing ride that, though it leads to an ending that one might guess is coming, has great energy. Clemons is a charismatic lead who delves fully into her role. When all the puzzle pieces finally come together, the film fires on all cylinders and makes for a magnetic watch.
Susie Searches had its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9. The film is 105 minutes long and is currently unrated.