Smile is the debut psychological horror film from writer/director Parker Finn.
The film follows Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a dedicated clinical psychologist where her life is interrupted by a disturbed woman (Caitlin Stacy) ranting of ghostly visions, then violently commits suicide during a session. Traumatised by the event, Rose begins experiencing the same terrifying visions herself with hallucinations of the dead and people she knows, all with the same horrible smile which haunts her every moment. As these visions become more real, Rose begins losing grip on her life and sanity. Horrifyingly, Rose is just the latest in a line of victims and her time is running out.
There have been many horror films with similar ‘chain-letter curse’ plots as Smile. I could probably list five just off the top of my head alone. They make for a fun night out for friends full of jump scares but little else. On its surface, that is what Smile appears to be. A formulaic horror film with nothing we haven’t all seen before. But what differentiates Smile from its contemporaries is just how extremely well made and effective it is.
Parker Finn has hit the ground running with an incredibly tense, scary, and disturbing film. Few horror movies truly earn their jump scares the way that Smile does. With off putting camera angles and things as simple as upside down establishing shots make for an entertaining and uncomfortable time.
The film’s soundtrack as well instils a feeling of uneasiness. By this, I don’t mean the music, I mean the unnatural ambient sound which builds and builds until you’re ready to jump out of your skin. I haven’t seen many filmmakers who have been capable of terrifying an adult audience in the same ways that The Exorcist achieved in 1973. If the screams in my cinema were anything to go by, then I would say “mission accomplished”.
I grew up watching films with special effects by the ‘godfather of gore’, Tom Savini. As such a horror film fan, I dislike the tendency to create these types of movies with a younger teen audience in mind to maximise profit. Smile, on the other hand, signals a return to form with some extremely brutal gore effects.
The cast of Smile also do an impressive job with noteworthy actors such as Jessie T. Usher, Kal Penn, and Judy Reyes elevating the whole experience. Not least of which is Robin Weigert playing Rose’s own therapist.
Leading the whole film is the talented Sosie Bacon. The daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, she lives up to the high bar legacy of talent set by her parents. Throughout the film, Rose goes from a caring regular doctor to a woman on the brink of insanity and Bacon is brilliant in the part. In much the same way that Parker Finn’s direction enhances otherwise exhausted material, Bacon electrifies as a scream queen.
Perhaps a bit long, I think scares in Smile get tired after 100 minutes. If only the story was half as creative as the rest of the film. Despite its amazingly effective presentation and its extremely predictable affair, Smile deserves all the credit in the world for taking derivative ideas and elevating them as much as it does. There’s also attempts made to develop Rose as a character much more than usual in your standard horror film. It doesn’t change the fact, however, that you will likely predict how the film plays out as you’ve seen it all before.
Smile is so well made and performed, other filmmakers should take note. As an absolute crowd pleaser, Smile achieves a quality which makes it a stand out horror film.