Smile (2022) Review
Look At That Killer Smile (or Maybe Not)!
By Lislotte Vanophem
A smile can go a long way. Whether you’re smiling at your loved ones, your closest friend or even someone you’ve just met, it will undoubtedly brighten everyone’s day. For a moment, the world seems to be a lot happier. However, we’re pretty sure that once you’ve seen Smile, the first long feature film from writer/director Parker Finn, you might think twice about seeing people smile. This is because their grimace might not be as innocent and as well-intentioned as you would think. Want to find out why? Then read on!
After witnessing her mother’s suicide at a young age, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) decides to help people dealing with depression, paranoia, hallucinations, etc. One day, she’s asked to assess a young PhD student Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey) who experienced much emotional distress after seeing her professor bludgeoning himself to death with a hammer a few days prior. She explains to Rose that ever since the suicide, she sees people around her with terrifying smiles on their faces. Whether it’s people she knows, knew or people she doesn’t recognise, they all look at her smiling in an eery way.
Not so long after experiencing another episode in front of Rose, Laura starts to smile in the same creepy way and slits her own throat. For many of us, the trauma of this event would never go away, but for Rose, it’s different. She’s surrounded by death and mentally ill people, so she thinks she can handle it. Little does she know that this event has a more significant toll on her than expected.
She starts to see people smiling in the same creepy way as her ex-patient everywhere she goes. When Rose finally decides to open up to the people around her about what she has experienced, her ex, Joel (Kyle Gallner), a cop assigned to Laura’s case, is the only one who believes her. According to her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), therapist Dr. Northcott (Robin Weigert), her boss Dr. Desai (Kal Penn), and her sister Holly (Gillian Zinzer), the psycho behaviour is the result of something neurochemical instead of supernatural. Rose’s life is sparling entirely out of control, and she must get rid of this insidious torment before it’s too late.
“Smile” is finally released in U.K. cinemas, and we’re pretty sure that Finn is grinning from ear to ear right now as the road to this release has been bumpy. This movie is based on his short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept”, but no in-person screenings could happen due to the pandemic. Luckily for him and us, he got the green light to make this long feature film after receiving a jury prize at the SXSW 2020 festival. While the adaptation from short movie to long film sadly results in some pacing issues (especially in the middle) and predictable moments, “Smile” is still a very effective horror film and here’s why.
The aspect of this movie that keeps you on your toes is the vision of the entity-a creepy smiling person who could appear anywhere and take the shape of anyone it wants. Yes, just like Rose, you question which people are real and which might be the entity showing us its darkest side. The fact that you never know when it will turn up and in which form results in some of the best jump scares in a long time.
The more the movie solely focuses on Rose’s internal struggles, her disturbing past and the creepy visions she’s seeing, the more influential the fast cuts and the mysterious visions become. Finn knows how to bring out the best of his visuals by going for many inverted shots, extreme close-ups, and hard cuts.
Also, the minimalistic (but in a great way) production design by Lester Cohen (“The Jesus Rolls”, “Fading Gigolo”) mostly consists of dark rooms, dim lights and shiny objects. Many scenes don’t have a score or soundtrack to enhance that nerve-wracking feeling. Still, those with a score can count on a loud and distorted sound design from Cristobal Tapia de Veer. Yes, Finn and his team give you a full-on psychological-horror experience.
What makes this movie as effective as it is, is the vulnerable and electrifying performance by Sosie Bacon (“Traces”, “The Last Summer”). She effortless switches between the strong, venerable doctor and the panicked, withdrawn and estranged woman who’s captured by a dark entity. Because Rose is our sole window into her dark soul and sinister world, we don’t see much of the supporting cast.
They might not get the chance to shine as bright as Bacon’s, but they’re perfect in what they do-ensuring that the lead performance is heightened even more. Unlike the characters in this film, the actors are the best support Bacon could have wished for.
Despite the somewhat formulaic plot and incomplete middle, “Smile” is dark, unnerving and almost spot on. This debut feature is filled with one great jump scare after the other, nightmarish smiles, dark and haunting cinematography and disturbing soundtrack. If this one of the most effective horror films of the year isn’t something to smile about, then we don’t know what is.
“Smile” is out now in U.K. cinemas
Originally published at https://www.ocmoviereviews.com.