You won’t be smiling after this movie

The horror genre is one often characterized by a laundry list of clichés: Laughably dumb characters, frustratingly clumsy chases, creepy kids and jumpscares are seemingly inevitable in horror movies. With so many tropes developing over the decades, it has become increasingly  difficult for new horror movies to stand out. It is all too easy for modern horror movies to be forgettable and formulaic at worst, or remembered for their atrocious quality at best. While it may not be an entirely new concept, “Smile” is a welcomed breath of fresh air for the genre, and stands out as one of the better horror releases of 2022. 

Adapted from Parker Finn’s 2020 short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” “Smile” is the director’s feature debut (Photo courtesy of Paramount Studios).

Released on Sept. 30, “Smile” is the feature debut of director Parker Finn. The movie is a feature adaptation of Finn’s short film, “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” and has seen massive box office success. Much of this success is attributed to a viral marketing campaign in which people were seen in sports stadiums sporting the film’s trademark sinister smile. 

The movie stars Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter, a therapist who witnesses one of her patients take their own life while wearing an eerie smile across their face. Unbeknownst to Dr. Cotter, in witnessing this death, she has become the latest target of a supernatural curse. In the following days, her patient’s twisted smile becomes inescapable, as she sees it everywhere she goes, from other patients to her nephew’s birthday party. These occurrences increase in intensity from unnerving to downright horrific, and Dr. Cotter’s life begins falling apart as everyone around her questions her mental state. With the help of her past boyfriend, a police officer named Joel (Kyle Gallner), Dr. Cotter must find a way to both prove her sanity and find a way to end the curse before it ends her. 

The film’s box office success is largely attributed to its viral marketing campaign, which saw actors in Major League Baseball stands sporting the movie’s signature evil grin (Photo courtesy of Slashfilm).

The core premise of the movie may not be an unfamiliar one to most horror fans. It is easy to draw comparisons to other curse movies like “The Ring” and “It Follows.” However, what elevates “Smile” above the sea of other similar movies is the deeper meaning behind the curse and the performances. The event that triggers the curse in the film is traumatic, and no event is a coincidence. Combine this with the lead character’s troubled past, and the supernatural aspects of “Smile” begin to take a grounded and tangible meaning. In a sense, the curse is representative of trauma, passing to and affecting the witnesses of scarring events.

The performance of Bacon as the lead also elevates the movie to a higher level. She portrays Dr. Cotter’s gradual descent into insanity so well that viewers may begin to question her sanity just as much as Dr. Cotter herself. Bacon excellently conveys the dread of having both her sanity questioned by everyone in her life and dealing with the curse, maintaining a tense atmosphere. 

When it comes to the more traditional horror elements, “Smile” excels in some regards and falls short in others. Perhaps most importantly, the film boasts many effective scares, convincing effects and is impressively visceral at times. Sometimes, however, the abundance of jumpscares and fake scares undermine the film. The issue is more apparent in the beginning. The initial scares were less effective, and seem almost comical when they do fall short. Even so, many of the less effective scenes are redeemed by the cinematography. The camerawork is often excellent, with unique and claustrophobic angles that maintain a sense of dread for the viewers. 

Sosie Bacon portrays intense emotion as Dr. Cotter, keeping viewers hooked throughout the runtime (Photo courtesy of Screenrant).

The final issue encountered in the film is the soundtrack. The soundtrack seeks to evoke the same tense nature of the camerawork, but often overreaches and ends up sounding amusingly bizarre. 

“Smile” is an all-around excellent horror film that has something for both longtime fans of the genre and those just looking for a good time at the movies. The chilling atmosphere, stand-out performances and underlying themes cement it as an impressive and fun horror movie. It may not be reinventing the genre, but it marks the beginning of a successful feature directing career for Parker Finn.