A college student with a terminally ill mother and struggling podcast decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a popular classmate. Susie Searches is a dark comedy and borderline sinister thriller on the trappings of social media fixation. The need for belonging and a desperate desire for fame leads a seemingly sympathetic protagonist down a troubling path. The film makes clever use of voiceover narration, reaction shots, and deft camera placement to layer a narrative with twists aplenty. Some you can spot a mile away but the performances and directorial execution is very good.
Susie Wallace (Kiersey Clemons), sporting braces and a bright smile, sits at her desk for her true crime podcast. Susie Searches dives into unsolved crimes with unfettered passion. She tells her nonexistent audience of a special gift. Susie always had the ability to guess the ending before anyone else. A flashback shows a young Susie (Ellie Reine) reading murder mystery novels with her doting mother (Jammie Patton). She calls out the villains as her impressed mom skips to the last pages to confirm.
Susie works as a cashier at a café in her Ohio school’s commissary. She’s constantly demeaned by Jillian (Rachel Sennott), an obnoxious coworker, and micromanaged at work. Her weird and anal-retentive boss, Edgar Cabot (a ponytail-wearing Ken Marino), expects laughable perfection of his minimum wage staff. But the news dominating their small town isn’t the burger special. It’s been more than a week since the disappearance of a wealthy student with millions of online followers.
Kiersey Clemons as Susie Wallace
Jesse (Alex Wolff) had it all — good looks, money, and legions of fans for his YouTube meditation videos. Susie obsesses over his puzzling case. She volunteers in the records department at the police station, much to the annoyance of Deputy Graham (David Walton) and Sheriff Loggins (Jim Gaffigan), who’s battered by the press for his failure to locate Jesse. Susie returns home to her sick mother. She’s further depressed at her podcast’s metrics. Only one person liked her latest episode. She needs to boost her numbers. Susie resolves to find Jesse at all costs.
Writer/director Sophia Kargman does an excellent job of defining Susie and her motivations. The character doesn’t have any real friends, isn’t taken seriously, and considered a general nuisance. But everyone around her radically underestimates Susie’s intelligence and drive. She refuses to be ignored. This need for validation triggers a hidden part of her personality. There’s a lot more to Susie than meets the eye.
The film’s second act dramatically changes the narrative. Dreams have come true for the resourceful Susie. She’s now a hero with the ultimate underdog story. Her podcast explodes in popularity. National media clamors to interview her. The school’s president (Geoffrey Owens) wants her to be the face of recruitment. Even Jillian and Edgar begrudgingly respect her investigative prowess. Not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. The pieces don’t all add up for Sheriff Loggins.
Susie’s Heroic Deeds
Susie Searches has a compelling visual and aural style that gets more intriguing as the film progresses. Susie narrates the story of her heroic deeds. The voiceover is akin to listening to her podcast. It’s a detailed breakdown of her detective methodology. She wants to prove that intellect and determination can solve any problem.
We quickly realize the knife cuts both ways when Susie’s meteoric fame is challenged. Kargman shifts tonally to an edgier approach. The camera leers at Susie from different viewpoints as she slowly unravels. There are also hilarious reaction cut scenes where true emotions sneak out. Susie’s barely holding it together. Her wall of confidence starts to crumble.
Susie’s someone you initially root for to succeed. She’s poor and unpopular with a dying parent, but has gumption. That resolve and grit deserves to be lauded. The applause soon fades. Clemons goes from bubbly and confident to a nervous wreck. Her bravura vanishes as what was commendable and inspiring becomes entirely distasteful. Susie’s dark turn flips a switch. She’s the definition of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Clemons marvels with a complex delivery that insidiously toys with your emotions.
Kargman’s overall purpose is to sharply criticize social media’s culture of instant fame and adulation. A carefully crafted image boosted by algorithms and keywords builds false idols. Susie’s enamored with Jesse’s followers. Endorphins and adrenaline flows with every like and retweet. Look at me. I’m great, and you think so as well. Praise becomes a drug that fuels narcissism. This invariably leads to destructive behavior. It’s a cycle that exponentially grows bad instincts. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. Kargman, who clearly has skill and promise as a filmmaker, gives tantalizing clues. What follows takes a somewhat predictable path but captivates with Clemons as your unreliable guide.
Susie Searches is a production of 141 Entertainment and Magnetic Labs. It is currently available on demand and digital from Vertical. You can check out the trailer below.