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Release Date: 07/28/23 [VOD]
Genre: Comedy. Drama. Mystery.

Studio: Vertical Entertainment.

"An awkward college student who seizes the opportunity to bolster her popularity and her under-the-radar true-crime podcast by solving the disappearance of a classmate." 


Susie Searches begins as a satire on true crime fascination filtered through small-town boredom and a smaller college campus. Then the film shifts from a cute, harmless junior detective story toward suspense, violence, exploitation, and overnight fame until it concludes as one of the most polarizing and confusing films I’ve ever seen.


To watch it is to experience steadily mounting frustration as you realize the filmmakers, director Sophie Kargman and writer William Day Frank, have taken enormous risks and have yet to quite get away with them and made a movie that never finds its own identity or audience. 


To describe the plot would spoil much of what is in store. I will tread softly. A young college student, Susie (Kiersey Clemons), is looking to break through the noise of the saturated market of true crime channels with her podcast and social media presence. Since she was a little girl, Susie was gifted in deducing the culprits in various whodunit stories her mom would read to her before bedtime. She now fantasizes about cracking cold cases and being the unconventional detective, a hero in her own story. Susie volunteers at the local police station, where she is treated more like a hindrance than a helper. She works part-time at the local burger joint and occasionally goes to class. And since her mother fell to Multiple Sclerosis, she is providing care and support on the home front. 


Susie’s world is populated with a swath of characters who also don’t know what movie they’re in. She has an ineffectual coworker Jillian (Rachel Sennott), and a manager Ken (Edgar Cabot), who is conflicted by civic duty and his streams of repressed rage. To call them one-note caricatures wouldn’t be fair, but the less I saw of them, the happier I was. The local police operate on ego and simple-mindedness, a trope that has long since worn out its welcome. Jim Gaffigan plays the seemingly inept police chief Sheriff Loggins whose bird-watching hobby serves as his one flash of brilliance in a later scene. 


Susie’s podcast channel doesn’t gain traction until she solves a case of a missing fellow student Jesse (Alex Wolff), early in the film. Alex Wolff, whose breakout role in Hereditary feels like a lifetime ago, channels enough charisma to play off Susie’s shy, awkwardness. His character is a local social media celebrity specializing in yoga, meditation, etc. To the shock of no one, his internet personality is a mask of his anxiety. This revelation becomes essential later in the film. Wolff and Clemons individually shine, yet somehow hold each other back in shared scenes.


Early in the film, Jesse is kidnapped, and his estranged uncle is marked as suspect number one. Susie does her sleuthing with internet searches and tack boards affixed with yarn, photos, lists, etc. She cracks Jesse’s location with probability tactics. She rescues him and becomes an overnight sensation, and all her dreams start coming true. However, this plot point happens only a half hour into the film.


Right after Susie brings Jesse home, the sharp pivot turns Susie Searches from the whimsy, coming-of-age tale of inspiration into a much darker and frustrating story. The film sours into bleakness as if rain clouds got blown in from the west. The college president (Geoffrey Owens) has no issue exploiting Jesse’s trauma and Susie’s heroic efforts to drum up press and school funding. Deputy Graham (David Walton) and Sheriff Loggins regard Susie as an even bigger nuisance after her public exposure, projecting their insecurity as stable law enforcement. Jesse’s closest friend Ray (Isaac Powell) begins to obsess about Susie by stalking her on social media and in real life. 


I think said twist had to be delivered quickly because the audience would have eventually put it together. With the small setting and smaller cast, the movie only has so many places it can go. True crime’s popularity in the last decade has sky-rocketed; 44% of all podcast listeners tune in to true crime. I suspect that conditioned true crime listeners played their part in story structure; the lasting popularity of this genre has simultaneously armed the viewer and put the filmmakers in a tight corner. This movie does have an audience, and I am sure some viewers will appreciate the often-frustrating paces it puts them through. But after subjecting movie-goers to this story once, this film will not draw them back for a rewatch. The truth is the big “twist” happens too early that Susie Searches resorts to being a self-licking ice cream cone to justify its runtime.

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