‘Smile’ Review: “Familiar But Intense Horror”
Director Parker Finn has made his theatrical debut with Smile. After first using the concept in his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept in 2020, Finn has translated his ambitious ideas into a full-length feature that mostly hits all the right notes. Smile tells the story of Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), who unwittingly becomes a victim of an evil presence following a traumatic event at her hospital.
On a technical level, Smile is impressive. The sound design, cinematography, and haunting score all help to accentuate the mood of the story. For horror fans, it’s a story they’ve heard a thousand times before. A well-known horror trope is an entity transferring itself from person to person, guaranteeing death after a certain number of days. Smile tells it well enough, but it doesn’t do anything different to make it truly interesting.
While the film doesn’t add anything new to the horror genre, it does enough to entertain. Sosie Bacon as Rose is an incredible lead in the movie. Her ability to differentiate her performances between the two halves of the film is awe-inspiring. By the time Smile begins to hit its stride with the “curse” placed on Rose, she’s nearly unrecognizable to the calm and composed doctor introduced at the film’s beginning.
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The supporting cast does well enough. However, at times, the performances feel like caricatures of what friends and family would be like in a parody horror film. There are a lot of comedic moments that come from these sometimes awkward performances too. There are also moments in Smile that play out like a morbid comedy, with certain scenes and setup delivering grotesque punchlines that lead to a mix of horror and hilarity. Finn strikes an exciting tonal balance of morbid humor and genuine scares, making Smile one of the more interesting horror features out this year.
The blur between dreams and reality is the only thing that brings down the scared Smile has to offer. It’s a repeated trope throughout the film that takes away from the darkness of the otherwise inspired scares.
As mentioned earlier, the sound design is one of the biggest strengths of Smile. This film takes advantage of being seen in a theater, with almost every single sound effect being ten times louder than it should usually be. When everything loud, it’s easier to get into the mindset of a character like Rose. You’re unsure of what you should and shouldn’t be afraid of.
When it comes to the actual “evil entity” at the center of Smile, horror fans won’t be disappointed. It takes a while to build up to the biggest scares in the film, but they feel earned. The lore behind the film is inspired, but as said before, the overall direction Smile takes is nothing new. You see almost everything coming from a story perspective.
From a scare perspective, however, Smile delivers. An inspired lead performance and incredible technical and production design help to lift Smile above its cliche and predictable story. The ending is definitely a high note, leaving a disturbing impression of originality that the rest of the film most definitely could’ve used. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Smile is in theaters September 30th, 2022.
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