You know it’s spooky season when a bunch of mid horror movies start coming to cinemas. Honestly, I had some hope for this one since the trailers were really quite creepy. Annoyingly however, the majority of the scariest sequences from the movie are in the trailer so… all in all, this was pretty much a let down.
Smile is based on a short film by Parker Finn, who also directs here. Set in New Jersey, it follows Sosie Bacon as level-headed psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter and her experience with troubled patient Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey, as pictured below… and in pretty much all of the promotional material for this movie). When Weaver has a mental breakdown in front of the doctor and brutally kills herself in the middle of her office, something changes in Cotter, who is convinced she’s imagining things at first. Unfortunately for her, this is not her imagination at all, and a bunch of horrendous, gruesome things start happening to her.
Wow, the advertising for this thing was super effective, huh? Paramount Pictures really just fooled us into thinking this was going to be the horror movie of the year! Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
Reliant on jump scares and at least thirty minutes too long, Smile is nothing more than average, both in horror terms and in general movie terms. It starts off semi-strong, with some graphic, truly disturbing body horror imagery until it tails off and becomes tedious. BUT WAIT! In the second act, it perks up again when the protagonist starts doing some detective work! …and all she ends up telling us is what the audience already figured out 20 minutes ago. There are plot holes galore and some really confused pacing throughout, making this one of the least satisfying cinema trips I’ve had all year.
It is quite obvious that Parker Finn knew what he was trying to do, in that there was a clear attempt to weave in themes of mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. However, it all ended up with too many loose ends and it felt as though the ending just hindered more than helped any endeavour to reduce said stigmas. Avoiding a neat conclusion entirely, Finn just sticks a weird demon-like figure in there instead, making it completely generic in a split second. What a missed opportunity; I’d be surprised if this was a directorial choice over a studio one. Basically, Finn should have kept his short film and not bothered with this – he clearly had too much to say on this topic and as a result, it overstays its welcome.
What must be said is that Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, by the way!) is actually really rather good here. She’s charismatic in a strange, off-putting way, and her descent into frustration and fear is really convincing to watch. It’s just a shame that the film itself lets her down – even some of the previously mentioned jump scares don’t quite hit the mark, and the build-up to the jump scares ends up being creepier than the actual crescendo itself.
I’ve seen a lot of praise surrounding this, but in all honesty, I felt really quite disappointed by it. What could have been a strong premise is ultimately wasted, and it all wreaks of a director being unable to edit himself. At least some of the camerawork was interesting, I guess.
Smile is currently screening in UK cinemas.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design:
Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½