“Smile” is one of the biggest surprises for me this year, especially in the horror genre. I didn’t have high expectations going in, but it managed to have larger ideas than scares within the story.
The movie focuses on Rose, a psychiatrist who witnesses one of her patients commit suicide in front of her. Following the traumatic events, she starts experiencing disturbing phenomenons that are not easily explained. Rose must examine her traumatic past in order to confront this entity that grows closer and closer to her.
I’m happy to say that “Smile” was much better than expected. It looked generic and easy to laugh at, based on the previews. While the film doesn’t totally reinvent the wheel, it manages to do a lot right. Sosie Bacon’s performance as Rose is the absolute standout of the film. She captures the broken side of the character’s persona but also manages to convey a range of emotions that helps us root for her. I can’t wait to see her in more material moving forward.
Kal Penn and Kyle Gallner offer good supporting performances, as well. One detail that I didn’t expect to be so strong was the thematic component. Mental illness, therapy and trauma are all topics that are present in the storytelling. Most of the subject matter is handled with care and provides a unique insight to a character that has struggled with so much.
The scares were also impressive. Most modern horror movies don’t utilize jump scares at the right time. “Smile” manages to build a tight, uneasy tone and hang onto it for a duration of the movie.
As much as Parker Finn gets right in his directorial debut, the film has a few problems. The runtime could have been condensed to make for a smoother story. Certain sequences just felt drawn out and slow. Twenty minutes could have been cut out and the plot would have been the same.
Rose’s boyfriend, Trevor, was also horribly casted. Jessie T. Usher had no chemistry with his co-star and falls flat on nearly every level of his performance. His character could have been cut entirely and been substituted with Gallner’s character. This might have helped the plot flow more organically and create a closer bond between Rose and her partner.
The story isn’t very original either. It borrows a lot from films like “It Follows” and “The Ring.” Both of which I think are better films. The elements it does retain are utilized very effectively though. But the piece of the story that left me feeling the most unsettled was the ending. Some might like the bleak resolution as it pertains to the state of the characters by the end. I personally found that it was very unsatisfying as it related to Rose’s mental health. It seemed to undermine her journey throughout the film.
Perhaps that is what Finn wants us to ponder: how trauma can circulate back and hit us at the most inopportune times. It will certainly create discussion around the issue, but I definitely wasn’t a fan.
“Smile” is definitely a creepy little film that does a lot right. A few bumps along the way hold it back from being great horror, but I expect everyone involved to come back with strong material in the future. We’ve seen stories like this before. For the season we’re in, you could do plenty worse.