Once you see it, it's too late.
Smile is a 2022 supernatural psychological horror film directed by Parker Finn, written by Parker Finn, produced by Temple Hill Entertainment and Paramount Pictures, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It's based on Parker Finn's 2020 short film, Laura Hasn't Slept. The film stars Sosie Bacon and Kyle Gallner.
"I'm just really scared that something bad is going to happen." - Dr. Rose Cotter
After a traumatizing event occurs right in front of her eyes, Dr. Rose Cotter begins having a horrifying experience that she cannot explain. As this new terror dominates her life, she faces it head on to fight her trauma and fear.
In a year filled to the brim with horror movies, Smile is probably the scariest one I've seen yet.
This film is really good at building up the intensity of a scene and then showing you something terrifying that will stick in your mind. It was the kind of film that made me truly uncomfortable on the drive home. The camera lingers on these images long enough to make sure you take them in. Jump scares are done with horrifying visuals. Slow, building dread will just pay off with an extremely disturbing shot or character. It's a film that does scares right, and it absolutely makes sure you are never comfortable throughout the entire runtime. The movie also used practical effects for a visual in the finale that were some of the best practical effects I've seen since The Thing. It was super, super cool.
Something I did not expect at all was the trauma and mental illness metaphor that Smile was going for. Although I really dug the trailer, it presents itself as a very surface-level horror movie. This film is not surface-level. It digs deep into our main character and explores themes of mental illness and how trauma can have a lasting effect on people and how they have to face it. It meshed really well with the story they told. I really, really dug that.
Smile's titular action is also present throughout the entire movie. The director does a great job of making smiles unsettling. It reminded me a little bit of Truth or Dare, albeit much better and much more creative. What I really appreciated, though, are the smiles in the background. The director will throw easter eggs out where there will be a smile on a coffee mug or in a painting in the background. It's a symbolic touch that I really, really loved.
This movie also has CRAZY jump scares. James Wan, director of The Conjuring and Saw, is really, really good at jump scares. Smile felt like it took inspiration from Wan and crafted some truly great jump scares. They aren't generic. They play it right. A lot of bad jump scares build up tension and then have some fake thing pop out at you, like a cat or a squirrel. Smile will jump-scare you with a really creepy looking image that just adds to the terror. Almost every jump scare got me, and that is not common in a horror film.
Sosie Bacon (who, fun fact, is Kevin Bacon's daughter) was absolutely incredible in this movie. She was so, so, so good at being terrified. When you're the main character in a horror movie, you obviously have to be scared. But a lot of horror movie protagonists act scared in a way that doesn't convey a true feeling of discomfort or terror to the audience. You one hundred percent believe that our main character is terrified for her life, and that is all because of Bacon's performance. She nails the anxiety and insanity of the situation with such ease and precision. She made me feel more unsettled and uncomfortable, and I mean that as the biggest positive possible.
Another thing that you won't gather from the trailers is that this film is a character study. You are entering Rose Cotter's psyche as she is experiencing this terrifying situation. Because the performance is so good and the direction is so good, you feel just as stressed out and hopeless as Rose. This film nails Rose's point of view, which just elevates the experience that Smile is.
And, piggybacking off of that, the direction in this film is just amazing. Parker Finn, the director, makes a big statement with his feature film debut. He knows how to use camera angles to convey feelings of discomfort. He knows when to keep the cameras rolling. There are so many long takes in this movie that just let you lay in the dread of this movie. He knows how to let the audience anticipate scares but still blindside them at times. He absolutely directed the crap out of this movie.
Whoo. 2022 has been a frustrating year for movies, in my opinion, because ALL of these movies have the EXACT same problem.
First off, Smile suffers from being repetitive near the end. You could've shaved fifteen minutes off of this movie and it makes it much better, because it doesn't feel as repetitive. Eventually the jump scares just get tiring and the tension-building just feels like "Oh, we're doing this again?". It's frustrating, because so much of this movie has such quality scares, but that quality wanes in the later parts of the film.
This is the problem that 2022 movies face: ENDINGS. Frickin' endings, man. Most of the movies I've seen this year are going strong for the most part and lose it near the end: Don't Worry Darling, Barbarian, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Nope, Turning Red, and even The Batman. Smile just doesn't stick the landing as well as I would've hoped. It seems like it's going to close out well. It has resolved it's story and it's themes in satisfying fashion...and then there's a surprise moment and suddenly the ending becomes completely different and unravels all of it's themes. The ending that seemed to be real wrapped up the story and themes perfectly. The ending that was real was unsatisfying and didn't serve the themes or the metaphor.
I know I kind of mentioned this before, but Smile does sometimes over-rely on jump scares. Once again, all of the jump scares are good, but they get tiring after a while. It just gets exhausting to constantly prepare for a massive jump scare to the point where it almost feels like audience abuse. They could've cut down on the jump scares. It would've made the film better.
Final Thoughts and Score
Smile is a terrifying horror flick that will get you prepared for the Halloween season in chilling fashion. A few things hold this one back from true greatness, but horror fans should definitely check this movie out.
I will go Savory. Age range is 15+.
SWEET N' SOUR SCALE
Sweet (Great) Savory (Good) Sour (Bad) Moldy (Terrible)
Fun Factor: 8/10
Directed by Parker Finn
Rated R for strong bloody violence, frightening themes and images, language, thematic elements
Released on September 30, 2022
1 hour and 55 minutes
Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter
Kyle Gallner as Joel
Jessie T. Usher as Trevor
Caitlin Stasey as Laura Weaver
Robin Weigert as Dr. Madeline Northcott
Rob Morgan as Robert Talley
Kal Penn as Dr. Morgan Desai
Gillian Zinser as Holly Cotter
Judy Reyes as Victoria Muñoz
Dora Kiss as Rose's Mom