Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kiersey Clemons leads a fun mystery/thriller in writer/director Sophie Kargman’s Susie Searches, based on her own 2020 short film. Similar to Tribeca favorite Poser, Susie Searches catalogues a struggling outsider as she goes to great lengths to help her podcast go viral. Of course, there are many more layers of nuance to what happens in this surprising and often excellent feature debut. If 90s Nickelodeon tackled the sociopathic Nightcrawler through the filter of a social-climbing collegiate podcaster, it would probably look something like Susie Searches.

Susie (Clemons, The Flash, MTV’s Eye Candy) has always been different from other girls. Her little tradition of reading crime books with her mom and solving them nearly as soon as said crime occurs seems to be a talent she could use in the real world to help people. As such, Susie has made it her mission to explore long-dead cold cases, then solve them on her aptly-named “Susie Searches” podcast. The only problem is that no one is really paying attention—Susie gets zero social engagement, unless spam accounts can be counted. If she can just become big enough for sponsorship, the likes should theoretically come rolling in. When Susie gets wind of a missing student at her school, she sees this as her chance.

Jesse (Alex Wolff, Hereditary, The Line) has been missing for a week—having built a massive following over his meditation videos on YouTube, Jesse’s whole brand was basically to “Be Kind.” Locating Jesse could be Susie’s golden ticket to super-stardom. With her mother sick at home with MS and an internship at the sheriff’s station driving Susie’s investigative backbone, Susie shifts all of her energy into making sure Jesse gets returned safe and sound. Along the way, Susie Searches takes surprising swings into darkness. 

The film’s visual language constantly impresses. Creative editing, whether portraying an endless Google search as a kaleidoscope, or the use of split-screen in a climactic sequence from its finale, gives Susie Searches more texture than expected. Wolff’s turn as influencer Jesse surprises, and as his close friend, Ray, American Horror Story’s Isaac Powell plays a big role in Susie’s hunt. In smaller doses, Jim Gaffigan’s Sheriff Loggins and Susie’s boss at Bonanza Burger, Edgar (Ken Marino, Wet Hot American Summer) are quite funny. 

Ultimately though, this film belongs to Susie—Kiersey Clemons plays up her naiveté sporting big braces and tightly-tied-up curly hair that smothers her characterization in innocence. As an audience, we root for Susie; her quirky narration drives us to shocking truths. An eerie score from composer Jon Natchez perfectly sets the mood. Kargman’s script, co-written with William Day Frank, is a winner—it asks the very modern question: how far would one go to be famous? A creative mystery overflowing with suspense, Susie Searches has all the makings of a cult classic.

Find out where Susie Searches when the film releases to VOD and Digital on Thursday, June 29th.

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