Co-written by Kargman and William Day Frank, “Susie Searches” starts strong but loses its way after our heroine solves her biggest case yet: the disappearance of local campus heartthrob Jesse Wilcox (Alex Wolff), a meditation YouTube star whose good looks and kind words make him a favorite of just about everyone he meets. Before the case, we see that Susie does not enjoy such adoration. She’s lonely and rejected by classmates, caring for her ailing mother by herself, working hard on a podcast practically no one listens to, and stops by the sheriff’s office to help but is mostly brushed off.
When Susie solves the case, her world changes. She becomes famous overnight, and how people talk to her also changes. The dean of her college glowingly refers to her as his star pupil as he readies her for the cameras. She nervously smiles as reporters (all in the worst stock impersonations of how journalists behave) ask her questions about how she rescued Jesse from an unknown kidnapper. But the bubbly, feel-good underdog feelings are short-lived. This mostly happens within the first half hour of the movie’s brief runtime, leaving the rest to flounder through the idea that maybe Susie isn’t everything she seems.
Kargman’s feature debut expands on her 2020 short “Susie Searches,” in which she played the braces-clad aspiring sleuth. However, what might have made a strong premise for a short does not translate to a foolproof feature. As a director, she plays with other thriller visuals—like freeze frames, intense close-ups, and split diopter shots—increasing their use towards the climactic end. But it feels at odds with the tone of the movie’s first third, that of a young detective solving her first big mystery. It’s as if the two parts have been Frankensteined together, and it doesn’t work.