We must always remind ourselves that horror films are the originals when it comes to addressing societal axinites we have under the pretense of a big evil monster lurking in the shadows, especially in an age where even Disney/Pixar pictures are imaginative character studies about adult issues. There is no need to recreate the wheel because this style of filming has stood the test of time. Parker Finn, a first-time feature-length director, turns up the suspense, mood, score, sound, and unending inventive jump scares in Paramount Pictures’ newest movie Smile (an adaptation and expansion of his original short film Laura Hasn’t Slept).
Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is a therapist who works with patients who have serious psychological issues in an emergency psychiatric hospital. She frequently puts in 80 hours a week, and in addition to suffering from severe burnout, she also has unresolved concerns from her mother’s death when she was a young girl. One day, she attends to a client who has illusions of being tormented by an “entity.” Ten minutes into the session, her patient begins to scream, then stops to give her the CREEPIEST SMILE EVER before horrifyingly committing suicide.
Rose is understandably shaken by her patient’s horrible suicide. She receives comforting messages from her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), her ex-boyfriend/police officer Joel (Kyle Gallner), and even her supervisor Morgan (Kal Penn). But when she’s by herself, she starts to hear voices and notice odd (and actually unsettling) images in the dark. She initially dismisses it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from witnessing a suicide, but as she thinks about her mother’s mental illness, she begins to wonder if she might be experiencing the same condition or is it “something else.”
It’s not a mental illness, at least. In Smile, a weird otherworldly aspect is present, which heightens the tension. There is a clock ticking against Rose before she becomes the next victim of whatever this “thing” is that is haunting those who have witnessed a horrible occurrence, causing them to lose their minds and finally go and harm themselves. Unfortunately, when she tries to explain things to her fiancé or sister, they dismiss her as being simply “crazy” and look at her incredulously. Her ex-boyfriend is beneficial since he truly pays attention to her and aids her in trying to figure out what precisely is wrong with her.
The tension-filled atmosphere of Smile makes it extremely horrifying, especially due to the countless jump scares that Parker Finn expertly executes throughout the movie. Jump scares are typically “cheap” and don’t really work in many movies, but in Smile, the atmosphere is so good that you can’t help but recoil a foot or two back when anything out of the ordinary occurs and jumps in your face. And you can’t help but feel your anxiety reach its peak EVERY SINGLE TIME Rose notices someone flashing that terribly scary smile that only she (and the audience) can see. The sound design used throughout the movie adds another fantastic element of tension. One particular scene has you hyper-focus on a tiny sound, and then a huge jump scare happens that makes you literally scream in the theater. Yes, Smile is a movie that calls for audience participation because you’ll find yourself yelling at the screen as insane things happen.
In terms of acting, Sosie Bacon is the star of Smile. Over the course of the movie’s 115 minutes, she transforms from a calm and collected therapist to a maniac, paranoid, and delusional person on the brink. She serves as our audience avatar, so you undoubtedly travel with her on the journey. Rob Morgan also excels in a moment where he plays a survivor of the entity who sheds insight on the situation. As Rose’s personal therapist, Robin Weigert offers a fantastic performance, constantly trying to bring her back to reality. The remainder of the supporting cast, on the other hand, has little to do during the movie because their main role is to react to Rose. Even though Smile is a longer version of a short film, it seems like the supporting cast could use a little more development.
It’s amazing that Paramount originally wanted to release Smile on their streaming service instead of in theaters. It’s a good thing that test screenings were highly receptive to the film as this is absolutely deserving of being seen in the theater with an audience that is vocally engaged with the material. Smile works very effectively as a horror movie, because as much as it’s about weird demonic entities horrifying Rose (and the audience), it’s a great exploration of trauma, suicide, and dealing with issues of the past…. and it’s creepy as hell!
Smile is currently in theaters.