“Smile” stars Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Robin Weigert, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, and Rob Morgan. Released on September 30, 2022, the film is about a therapist discovering a sinister presence that's murdering people.
The film features the directorial debut of Parker Finn. It is based on Finn's 2020 short film "Laura Hasn't Slept". Many people say that a simple smile can bring joy and happiness to everyone around them, including themselves. However, in most cases, a smile can also bring out the opposite. We're officially at the tail end of September, which means it's time to celebrate the month of Halloween once again by watching more creepy-ass movies. "Barbarian" and "Pearl" were the appetizers, so now we see if this latest horror movie is good enough to be the start of the main course. I haven't seen the short film it's based on. Heck, I didn't even realize it existed until I did some research online. However, the trailers I've seen were enough for me to check it out, even though the creepy smiles gave me "Truth or Dare" vibes. We all know how that one turned out. So was it creepy enough to put some grins on horror fans' faces? Let's find out.
The story follows Rose Cotter (Bacon), a therapist. While treating a recent patient named Laura Weaver (Stasey), Rose discovers a bizarre incident in which she kills herself while smiling, resulting in her being traumatized. Eventually, Rose starts experiencing several visions of people giving out creepy smiles, leading to her discovering that she's the latest victim to suffer the same fate as Laura. To escape this unexplainable phenomenon, Rose must confront her past while surviving the mysterious presence haunting her.
There's nothing more terrifying than seeing something you can't explain but no one else can. No matter how often you tell them what you saw, people will always think you're insane in the membrane. Anything related to the supernatural can make the situation worse…or hokey depending on the execution. "Smile" has writer/director Parker Finn attempting to combine these two elements to create an unnerving experience for horror fans. Since Finn's also responsible for the short film it's based on, this should've made his task much easier regarding its concept.
If its goal is to make a horror masterpiece out of exploiting a mental illness, I would sadly say it fell short of meeting that high expectation. However, it does accomplish its objective in delivering another terrifying ride that's more watchable than most modern horror movies from recent years. Part of that is due to the story, which has Rose confronting an entity that affected people before her. This is another film that deals with incurable trauma that affects people mentally following an incident. It follows a person's journey to combat the pain from the past before it takes over their lives. In the case of "Smile", we see Rose deal with not just a patient's unusual death but also an incident from her past. It's something we've seen in many psychological films before it, but the film provides a refreshing flavor that makes itself somewhat satisfying. The exploration of trauma from Rose's perspective is a riveting depiction that's eerie and convincing enough to send chills down my spine. The addition of its disturbing imagery and supernatural elements helped make the experience even more unsettling.
The storyline was mildly entertaining in delivering the compelling combination of trauma and the paranormal, with the addition of some decent jump scares. Unfortunately, it doesn't overshadow its formulaic plotting taken from other supernatural horror movies. Most people say that it falls in line with other films like "It Follows", "The Ring", and the already mentioned "Truth or Dare", and I can't disagree with that. From my perspective, it has the "It Follows" vibe from an unseen force disguising itself as people and "Truth or Dare" from the creepy-ass smiles. Thankfully, the ones in "Smile" were way less hokey than that mess of a movie. Despite that, "Smile" struggled to match the striking narrative that "It Follows" delivered. It also didn't help that its ending undermined the film's message, even though it did its job of subverting people's expectations.
On the plus side, the film has a cast worthy enough to deliver some convincing performances. I hadn't heard much of Sosie Bacon before this film. She's been in other things like "13 Reasons Why", and I recently discovered that she's Kevin Bacon's daughter. But this movie was my very first time seeing her. Based on what I saw from her, I think she's good enough to earn more roles like this. Bacon was mesmerizing in manifesting Rose's traumatic state and uncontrollable fear of unexplainable events happening in front of her. She's easily one of the better parts of the film. Gallner and Jessie T. Usher also delivered solid performances as Joel and Trevor, Rose's fiancée, respectively.
Despite not seeing the short film, I thought Parker Finn did a suitable job reintroducing his source material as a full-length feature regarding his vision and screenplay. His approach to the editing and cinematography was nothing but an eye-opener, especially the shots that were upside down. Not to mention the lighting in specific sequences effectively provided a tense and nightmarish sense of dread. These shots were used before in other movies, so it's nothing too unique, but the way Finn used them in "Smile" is unsurprisingly tough to look away. But do you know what's really refreshing? The score. The music by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is something you have to hear for yourself. Let's just say it's just as haunting as the smiles on people's faces. Then there are the visuals, which didn't look as cheesy as I thought they would. They actually looked pretty good regarding the shock value and the third act.
Overall, "Smile" is an effective and nightmarish representation of trauma that would surely put smiles on horror fans' faces. What seemed to be another hokey supernatural film filled with people with huge grins like "Truth or Dare" is actually a dark and messed-up trip through this hellish realm that's authentically scary. It doesn't offer much to its formulaic narrative and ending, but it does deliver another watchable scare-fest fit for modern audiences and myself. From its convincing cast to Finn's direction toward the scares, the film signifies the start of a bright future for the up-and-coming filmmaker, especially for the horror genre. It's worth checking out if you're in the mood for psychological terror, but be prepared to never see a single grin again after watching it.