'Smile' movie review: an unsettling horror film that fails to realise its true potential
While Finn never gets past scratching the surface, where his film excels is in the performance zone and the brilliant score that elevates the tension of certain scenes
Horror, as a genre, is in quite an interesting space in recent times. Horror films are striving hard to do more than jump scares and camera tricks to evoke a fear-induced rush of adrenaline and dopamine. If the recently released Barbarian excelled at it, Smile manages to replicate it to a certain degree of success.
Keeping in with the tradition of multiple cult classics under the genre, Smile is the story of a person, in our case, psychiatrist Rose Cotter (a brilliant Sosie Bacon) who has to deal with the increasingly disturbing and daunting supernatural experiences that only she encounters. Not only does she have to get to the bottom of it and “break the chain”, but she also has to convince her fiancé, family, and everyone around that she is still mentally sound.
Smile, directed by Parker Finn in his feature directorial debut, based on his 2020 short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, intertwines the present story of Rose with her traumatic childhood that involved the death of her mother. Finn conscientiously laces the plot with information that’s privy to both the audience and Rose, in the current timeline and with the ones from her past that she wants to bury beneath the sands of time.
The plot itself bears similarities to several cult classics such as The Ring, It Follows, and Hereditary, but that doesn’t take away the fact that Smile is unsettling in its own twisted yet intriguing manner. In multiple instances, the film holds a mirror to how mental health is perceived in today’s society and the need for the masses to understand its importance. While Finn never gets past scratching the surface, where his film excels is in the performance zone and the brilliant score that elevates the tension of certain scenes.
Actor Kevin Bacon is a treat to watch in horror/thrillers and he has a slew of horror classics such as Friday the 13th, Tremors, and Hollow Man under his belt. His daughter and actor Sosie Bacon, with a haunting performance, has proven that the apple doesn’t fall far away from the tree. As the film progresses and Rose’s condition worsens both physically and mentally, Bacon succeeds in portraying the character who has to be shocked yet prepared for the new lows her character hits.
Smile happens to be one of those rare entries where the chills work but leaves you wanting more. The film, especially in the later half, slows down and takes the road often taken at the expense of what really worked in favour of it in the first place—the scares. Otherwise, the film offers very less and that includes its halfhearted attempt at addressing the stigma around mental health and unprocessed agony. Smile has a handful of scares that almost make us jump off our seats only to sink back into it with a grin of that satisfactory ‘you got me’ on our faces... but what we signed up for weren’t mere grins.
Cast: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T Usher, Kyle Gallner, Robin Weigert, Kal Penn
Director: Parker Finn
Rating: 2.5/5 stars