A gentle comedic thriller in the spirit of Tragedy Girls, Susie Searches is a true crime tale of a socially awkward aspiring star that features a lot of wry commentary.
While the pacing has its ups and downs, the script from William Day Frank (from a story by director Sophie Kargman) is clever and star Kiersey Clemons (amazing as always) perfectly nails the desires of a College student who is equal parts introverted and ambitious.
The film opens with a quick montage of home videos of Susie’s childhood. The scene is always the same: she and her mom (Lisa Tirone King) reading together in bed. From this we learn two key pieces of character insight: young Susie is a crack detective who can always identify the culprit in mysteries and over time her mother’s deterioration due to MS has turned Susie from a child to a caregiver.
It’s evident early on that Susie has her life in order. There’s definite notes of obsessive compulsion in her meticulous routines and attention to detail, which includes her creative outlet: a well-produced and well-researched, incredibly unpopular true crime podcast.
It’s not until Susie’s classmate Jesse (Alex Wolff), a minor social media celebrity known for his dim-bulb meditation videos, goes missing that Susie finds her angle. While her volunteer work at the local police precinct is undervalued by weight shake obsessed Deputy Graham (David Walton) and bird-watching Sheriff Loggins (Jim Gaffigan), she’s not deterred from solving the case and grabbing the limelight.
Despite similarities such as an inner monologue, Susie Searches isn’t Veronica Mars or Nancy Drew (that doesn’t stop scene stealer Rachel Sennott as Susie’s co-worker Jillian from labelling her as such, though). The difference is that Jesse’s kidnapping is wrapped up rather quickly; it’s actually solved by the end of the first act in a surprising twist that takes the film in a completely new direction. In the process, Susie and Jesse are forced into closer proximity, while new characters such as Jesse’s friend Ray (Isaac Powell) and Susie’s ridiculous boss Edgar Cabot (Ken Marino) move to the fore as obstacles to happiness and success.
While the film doesn’t have much new to say about the fleeting and dangerous desire of (internet) fame, the comedy – veering from clever to satirical to yes, even fart jokes – still works like a charm. Most of the film maintains a punchy, high energy vibe courtesy of Kargman’s creative visuals such as DePalma-esque split screens, and rectangular close-ups of Susie’s face laid out like crime scene photos. There are even some genuinely scary sequences, including a climax that’s indebted to The Silence of the Lambs.
Anchoring the film at every turn is Clemons, who is dressed down in dowdy turtlenecks, flyaway hair and Susie’s trademark pink and blue braces. The actress’ facial mannerisms are exceedingly expressive and her manner of speaking over the braces is so incredibly endearing and convincing, it’s fascinating to watch Clemons disappear into the role. As a PTSD-suffering himbo with a secret, Wolff is another stand-out, though its a testament to the comedic talents of the supporting cast that the film is littered with amusing barbs, cracks and rejoinders.
Finally, credit to costume designer Samantha Hawkins for creating visual symmetry between kidnap victim and rescuer: Susie and Jesse frequently wear clothes appear to be in conversation with each other. It’s a clever way to link the fate and fortune of one with the other.
Overall, Susie Searches is a clever, fun take on true crime and stardom with rock solid lead performance by Kiersey Clemons. Save for a dip in pacing and energy between the second and third act, the true crime obsessed film has plenty to offer audiences hungry for twists, horror homages and meta-comedy. 3.5/5
Susie Searches played TIFF 2022.