Horror films typically rely on some sort of gimmick to stick their underlying tone and message through the usual tropes of horror. This can range from evil spirits, zombies, aliens, possession, evil monkeys, and even dark rooms. Filmmaker Parker Finn's first feature film enlists the gimmick of "smiling" as the creepy force of nature in his new horror movie Smile starring Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon). Taking its cues from a few other iconic horror films, Smile makes some room with some great jump scares and a theme that tackles personal trauma. Unfortunately, Smile falls off the fence post in its final act into a jumbled mess, despite some truly great practical effects and monsters. If you need a spooky flick this weekend - Recommended!
Comedies have an easy time getting great reactions from audiences. Even though almost every comedic film has the same exact formula from start to finish, the different performers and jokes allow for something different each time. In horror movies, a lot is placed upon visuals in the film, therefore it's difficult to try something new and implement an element that hasn't been done over and over before. There are only so many ways to show a character walk down a dark hall, look around slowly, the music goes quiet, and a cat jumps out to scare falsely, only for the camera to pan around and reveal a monster standing behind the actor. With Smile, there are those same situations, but it feels fresh and even scarier than the average horror movie, it's a new take on horror that smiles back.
Smile acts like It Follows, Drag Me To Hell, and The Ring all in one film. It never rises to the level of greatness of those films, but it navigates some of the same horror tropes whether it be someone following a character, an evil entity torturing and possessing someone, or even being killed on a timeline after witnessing something horrific. Still, with all of Smile's visual homages to other horror movies, including a hilarious Alien 3 wink, there's still a ton of bloody good fun to be had here. And Sosie's performance as Dr. Rose Cotter is impressive.
Smile utilizes its horror in people's personal trauma. The film centers around Dr. Rose Cotter (Bacon), who is a practicing psychologist helping her patients deal with their crippling anxiety and past trauma. When a mysterious young woman becomes Rose's new patient, she witnesses the woman's personality immediately change into a creepy smile leading to her demise. After the shocking incident, Rose starts to sense things are out to get her. Supernatural and demonic elements stalk and torture her at every move that only she can see until the film climaxes. Her family members, ex-boyfriend (Kyle Gallner), current love interest (Jessie T. Usher from The Boys), and her boss (Kal Penn) start to witness her increasingly strange and violent behavior. As the supernatural attacks become more intense, Rose must confront her own past trauma in order to survive what is inevitable in her immediate future.
With jump scares abound and some gruesome practical effects throughout, Smile does a good job of setting the tone and its terrifying themes, which is what makes this movie succeed. On the other hand, Parker has trouble executing the narrative in an original way giving too many winks to other films and eventually throwing in virtually every horror visual and gag at the end. Still, Sosie Bacon turns in a fantastic performance and is on edge throughout the whole film. Her physical performance is excellent as she's repeatedly thrown through tables and against walls. Parker's direction in horror does add to the suspense and terror, but Smile just doesn't quite stick the landing, despite an exquisite amount of memorable good moments up to that point. Still a creepy flick worth checking out - Recommended!