Friday, September 30

Smile Review


Dir: Parker Finn

Starring: Susie Bacon, Jessie Usher, Kyle Gallner, Robin Weigert, and Kal Penn

1h 55m

An unwanted stare and a sinister smile are used throughout cinematic history to evoke unnerving and discomforting fear. Norman Bates' final moments in "Psycho," Pennywise smiling with balloons in "It," and Freddy Krueger's deadly smirk in "Nightmare on Elm Street" are a few examples. In horror movies, the scariest monster often has the biggest grin.

There is much to smile about with writer/director Parker Finn's horror film "Smile," a simplistic, albeit creepy and fun, head trip of genre filmmaking. Utilizing characters with evil gazes and unnaturally forced, ear-to-ear grins, Finn crafts a horror film that startles, shocks, and scares its way through a story that utilizes trauma and mental health as a narrative vessel. While the film may not always succeed with its intentions of exploring trauma through a horror lens, it's evident that the filmmaking team understands how to establish an atmosphere and execute a scare. 

Rose Cotter (Susie Bacon) is a psychologist working at a treatment facility while carrying past childhood trauma concerning the suicide of her mother. Rose is called to assist a new patient, a young woman named Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who is having negative feelings while also being stalked by, what she believes, is a sinister force. During their consultation, Laura begins to scream for help. After calling for assistance, Rose witnesses Laura, who has a massive smile, kill herself. Rose soon discovers that whatever tormented her patient has now latched itself to her, blurring the lines between reality and a nightmare.

"Smile" takes a creepy setup and builds familiar scare tactics all around it. Sound effect stings push the jump scare level into high gear. The building of tension within a quiet house, with manipulation of dark corners and masked backgrounds, adds an unexpected element of surprise to the horror setups. It's an ingenious design, but nothing horror audiences haven't seen in other films. Still, these familiar elements all play supporting characters to some awe-inspiring imagery, a few that will be lasting nightmare fuel for some unsuspecting viewers.

Susie Bacon does a great job carrying the lead performance through significant emotional and physical changes. As her character experiences greater torments, the world around her begins to fall into deeper despair. Bacon composes a feeling that, at first, responds with a calm physical demeanor, finding answers based on the reality of her job as a psychologist. But, as the threat grows stronger, invading moments that blur reality and a dream, the character begins to unravel emotionally. The performance complements the story, especially as the film starts to regurgitate ideas and scares one too many times. 

"Smile" takes a creepy setup, retools some familiar elements from other films, and crafts a scary movie told with a focus on unresolved trauma and mental health concerns. The story suffers when the film functions solely as a scare device. However, as a scary movie arriving at the start of the spooky season, "Smile" is a fun horror experience.

Monte's Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

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