“Smile, though your heart is aching, smile even though it’s breaking…” Smile is a demonic entity meets procedural crime drama thrill ride that didn’t disappoint this horror movie fan. For a horror movie, Smile takes on some pretty heavy psychological issues, particularly trauma, and should definitely come with a trigger warning. Smile forces us to to deal with our demons, both literally and figuratively. While Smile doesn’t cover new ground thematically – 2018, for example, was a BIG year in horror about exploring inherited trauma, nor does it waver from tried and true methodic mystery solving; first time writer/director Parker Finn takes these old ingredients and creates something that (at least feels) new and fresh.
Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick) is phenomenal in the role of Rose Cotter, a therapist in a psychiatric emergency ward where she briefly meets Laura (Caitlin Stasey, the smile-er with the CREEPIEST smile, probably why she’s the one on all the promo material), a PhD student who is experiencing a breakdown after witnessing her professor bludgeon himself to death a week prior. She reports this entity that looks like people smiling at her has been following her since that day – and then proceeds to smile herself while slitting her own throat with a shard from a broken vase. This all happens before the title sequence which is sonically and visually jarring – a precursor for the way the rest of the movie will stylistically keep viewers feeling tense, never really giving a moment’s respite from the unease.
Once Rose sees Laura’s suicide, she begins experiencing the same phenomena that Laura recounted in the time they had together before Laura’s own suicide. This isn’t Rose’s first encounter with suicide, having witnessed her mother’s when she was ten. With the stigma of inherited mental illness weighing on her own psyche, she is hesitant to tell anyone or even to believe herself what is beginning to happen to her, lest she be following in her mother’s footsteps. Her mother’s legacy follows her as closely as the entity, making her assertions even more unbelievable to those she confides in early on, especially as she yells “I’m not crazy!” in frustration followed by a quick and quiet apology while staring at her feet. Once she begins to follow the mystery, she finds a long trail of suicides, and a growing certainty that she will not survive.
Smile is well written, well directed, and well acted
Smile is a really good psychological horror movie, that is definitely of the horror and not thriller genre as so many of these movies usually ride the line between. Sosie Bacon is so convincing as the entity takes more of her sanity, leaving her increasingly unable to discern truth from fiction, and alienating those who are supposed to be her support system until she is completely withdrawn from the real world. The color palette is specifically chosen in dull shades like gray, lavender, and rose that perpetuate the grim forecast of Rose’s future, or, if you want to get philosophical about it, the grim reality of the world for people living with unresolved trauma and PTSD. This entity seems to prey on those who have been traumatized earlier in life and then uses that trauma to traumatize them further once it is attached. Rose’s nephew is traumatized by her behavior, and there is a moment where he is watching her freak out alone in her car where I have to wonder if he could be a victim farther down the line.
The jump scares are good, I didn’t see them coming. They are not cheap, nor does the director ever pull the jump scare bait and switch, which to me is a sign of a more intelligently crafted horror film. The score is well-suited to the moments it accompanies and there isn’t a wasted camera shot – every part of this movie seems carefully crafted to illicit an emotion or throw the viewer off balance. It is most unfortunate, then, that the previews give away so much of the plot that I knew twice what was going to happen because I saw it in the preview – and these are not small moments. That was VERY disappointing, and with so much visually engaging material to work with, completely unnecessary. I did include the preview below, and if you haven’t seen it and plan to see the movie DON’T WATCH IT! You’ll enjoy the movie much more that way. Either way, from the preview I figured Smile would either be very good or very bad, and I came away highly satisfied, and in a good year for horror, this one nears the top of the list.
Smile is currently showing only in theaters.
Is Smile too “typical” to be good? Let me know what you think in the comments!