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SMILE (2022)

Release Date: 09/30/22
[Paramount+ / Cinemas]
Genre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller

Studio: Paramount Pictures

"After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can't explain. Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality."


How would you feel if you glanced up at a party, eyes fanning the room, and landed on someone you didn't know smiling at you? Would you be intrigued or worried? A smile is often regarded as nothing more than a friendly exchange but could be seen as dangerous or threatening, especially if that person smiling at you meant certain doom was heading your way.


That is the premise of Smile, a horror film that was better than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised due to its sharp writing and incredible performances. Kudos to writer/ director Parker Finn for evoking such dread from smiling, a gesture traditionally seen as a safe and friendly greeting.


The plot involves a therapist named Rose (Sosie Bacon) who sees an emergency patient early in the film who is having a hallucinogenic episode; this patient is seeing things that no one else sees. This patient then starts to smile before killing herself rather violently right in front of Rose – and now she is beginning to see other people smile at her throughout the film. Yes, I'm glossing over a lot of the nuance, but that's the gist of the plot. It's a bit of a mash-up of The Ring, and It Follows, and towards the very end, there was an aspect that reminded me of the end of Barbarian – no spoilers, though.


I also appreciate Sosie Bacon here, the daughter of Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon, who has his horror movie legacy between Friday the 13th, Tremors, and Stir of Echoes.


Now here's the rub and why I'm going to recommend Smile. This movie could have gone two ways. One way would've been the PG-13 tame CGI jump-scare schlock we've seen a hundred times. But Smile takes a risk, it's R-rated, it's very bloody, and it invites a discussion about mental health and how we respect and engage with people who require treatment for their mental health. In a lesser horror movie that would play it safe, this issue wouldn't have gotten the attention it deserves. To suggest that using trauma as a plot device for a horror film is overdone. I can see a case being made here. But I would argue that Smile – while not a great film – takes time to unwrap the echoes of past trauma and why it's healthy to confront it. I'm paraphrasing a quote from the movie that I liked – "Your trauma may never go away, but we can control how we live with it." 


There are a lot of jump scares in this film. Sadly, the significant scares were spoiled for me. But the filmmakers find inventive ways to land the jump scares with integrity to the context they're put in. Smile did jump scares well, and I hate jump scares. But there is more scary substance here besides the jolts and shrieks. There is a lot of tension building amplified by heavily creepy scenes. How certain characters are framed and blocked in a scene makes for an unsettling experience. And people just smiling at you can become very uncomfortable. Many great production choices are here, too, from the pink walls, the constant use of smiley faces in innocuous places, and the sound design. Parker Finn enlists a level of care that is on par with his peer group. Ari Aster (Hereditary) and Scott Derrickson (Sinister) come to mind. I respect the level of detail this movie has. And everyone's performance was outstanding. Especially Sosie Bacon's. The supernatural premise of this film is just really silly. But the performances sold it. Even if everyone else bombed (they didn't), Sosie Bacon alone could've easily carried this film on her shoulders.

Smile is not a film that should be casually seen, especially by people with lingering trauma set from abuse and suicide. But while Smile does challenge the viewer in many ways by putting them through heavy, bloody paces, it inspires just the same. People, especially women, often smile through trauma, heartbreak, and pain, and our hero, Rose, is their champion. Smile laboriously winds its way to the point that masking suffering with a smile won't convey health and happiness if the demons are still inside us.

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