Smile has its moments but struggles to offer any fresh ideas.
Despite its name, Smile is a horror movie that won’t put a grin on your face. Instead, Smile, the feature directorial debut of Parker Finn, will leave you shaking and probably feeling pretty bummed out as it plays with the fine line between hopelessness and general despair… Oh, and there’s plenty of blood and death too.
Coming from Paramount studios before the spooky movie season of October time kicks off, Smile is a film that will undoubtedly shake you to your core. It is heavy, graphic, and plays with supernatural and insanity story threads. But once the cinema lights come on and the credits start to roll, the big question still remains: is it truly scary or just upsetting? Warning, this review will be diving into Smile’s story, which contains direct references and depictions of suicide, so please bear that in mind before you continue.
If you are still with us and are ready to jump into the bleak deep end, let’s break down what Smile is actually about. Set in the modern day, the thriller movie has a pretty simple and linear premise that many spooky film fans will undoubtedly feel is reminiscent of other horror movies such as It Follows or the iconic ghost movie The Ring.
Dr Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist working at an emergency trauma ward, is a woman with a dark past. Having seen her mother die in front of her at the age of ten, she spends most of her days dealing with her guilt by helping others at her local hospital. However, after meeting her new patient Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who insists that an evil entity is haunting her, Rose’s life turns upside down.
Laura commits suicide in front of Rose, who then becomes the target of that mysterious entity that we mentioned earlier. The plot is tense but predictable as its revealed the doctor is now cursed with a monster who will cause her death a week after torturing her.
On paper, this story is intriguing, playing with concepts of psychology, possession, and monsters (all gold star avenues when it comes to the horror genre), and Smile does succeed in making us jump with all the creature’s mind games and sudden appearances in Rose’s life.
However, ultimately you can’t help that Smile loses steam and comes across as one-note as the film trudges along. Looking back at the monster movies I mentioned earlier – It Follows, and The Ring – both of these had similar premises to Finn’s story but balanced out their heavy atmospheres with either relief from the protagonist getting a few wins here or there, or from captivating us with a mystery that wasn’t solved until the climax of the thriller ghost movie.
On the other hand, from the get-go, Smile uses its admittedly impressive soundscape to craft tension, even during mundane scenes. The film, while clean, features a predictable script, scenes where tilted angles to create unease are overused, and it stacks jump scares and heavy subject matter without giving its audience any breaks. In short, it can come across as one-note and, dare I say, as if it is overindulging in the emotional turmoil of suicide and self-violence without keeping us hooked with fresh ideas.
While that may all read as pretty harsh, don’t get me wrong, Smile does have its moments. While there are plenty of standard noise-based jump scares and some fake-outs, the film does have some genuinely terrifying moments. There is a big monster reveal, and the flick’s climax does induce a few goosebumps. Finn, obviously has some great ideas and instincts that make Smile stand out on the scare factor in the 2022 horror landscape, so credit where credit is due.
Similarly, Bacon’s performance as Rose is admirable, as she perfectly plays a woman in constant distress without overacting moments of despair or trauma. With all this in mind, Smile manages to redeem its otherwise singular tone and overly familiar script.
If you are looking for a new popcorn movie that inspires plenty of jumps, then Paramount’s horror will be right up your street. On the other hand, if you are familiar with the spooky genre, Smile may just be a case of ‘seen and done all that before’.
Smile is out in cinemas now. For more spooky picks, here is our guide to the best zombie movies of all time.