PG Score: 6.5/10
Smile was released in theaters on 9/30/22
Coming off two well-received shorts (one of which this film is based on), writer/director Parker Finn's feature-length debut arrives with mixed results. Smile showcases plenty of downright haunting imagery to elevate a commanding lead performance from Sosie Bacon. However, it is held back by a dependence on jump scares and a lack of originality.
The plot centers on Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), who begins experiencing alarming phenomena following a harrowing event involving a patient. It soon becomes clear that she must face her traumatic past to survive her present nightmare.
Sights and Sounds
The excellent special effects lead to some truly disturbing sequences. While the violence in Smile is infrequent, the moments of onscreen brutality that do occur certainly leave an imprint. Finn exhibits a flair for producing grotesque images that claw their way deep into the viewer’s psyche. It is in this space where the majority of his innovative capabilities are unveiled. Impressive sound design, highlighted by a captivating score from Cristobal Tapia de Veer, enhances the visual mastery created by Finn and Director of Photography Charlie Sarroff. It is a shame that these accomplishments are cheapened by Finn's infatuation with jump scares. There are a few effective, startling instances but much of the atmospheric horror is diminished by common scare tactics.
Lack of Substance & Individuality
Above all else, Smile serves as an uncomfortable examination of trauma. The grim tone and life-or-death stakes set the stage for an unpleasant affair that should be met with an appropriate attachment to the protagonist. However, the complete absence of any dramatic beats renders a significant connection impossible. Given the inescapable shadow of past suffering that looms throughout, it is surprising that a more substantial emotional element is missing. The lack of any real drama despite the emphasis on the heavy subject matter can only be interpreted as a missed opportunity.
Rooted deeply within the context of mental health, Finn gives himself plenty of real estate as to where he can guide the narrative. The premise affords him ample room to break new ground in the horror sphere and carve out something of his own. Instead, he takes the easier route and pulls from an assortment of existing movies such as It Follows, The Grudge, The Ring, and others. Vague resemblances in cinema are seen all the time, especially when it comes to horror. But he makes little effort to mask or alter the similarities at all. Finn’s setup is creative, but his execution borrows too much from those that came before him.
Clocking in at just under two hours, the movie drags at points. The most noticeable lag occurs in the third act and hurts an otherwise satisfying climax. A tighter runtime accompanied by a slight tonal shift would have likely sent Smile in a more fruitful direction.
Sosie Bacon is mainly known for playing supporting characters, most notably Carrie Layden on the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries Mare of Easttown. Her transition to a demanding lead role in a horror film is remarkable. She portrays Rose with a compelling aura and her performance alone is reason enough to set foot in the theater. While Bacon carries the bulk of the acting load, co-stars Jessie T. Usher, Robin Weigert, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, and Kal Penn all fill their respective parts quite well.
Unfulfilled, but Satisfying
Primarily thanks to its unsettling visuals, Parker Finn’s first tussle in the big screen arena lands some genuinely creepy blows. The freshman filmmaker makes enough right moves to avoid too many frowns in the audience when the credits roll. Still, it is impossible to ignore that with bolder storytelling and horror mechanics in place, Smile could have had viewers grinning ear to ear.
PG Score: 6.5/10