Smiles are meant to convey feelings of happiness or humor, but for horror fans, they’re often used to convey abject terror and fear. No movie better embodies that than Parker Finn’s feature directorial debut, Smile. Starring Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick), Smile is intentionally vague on lore, but very heavy on supernatural terror…
Smiles, Smiles Everywhere
Following a grim dream/flashback to a traumatic childhood event, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) wakes up at her desk, having dozed off at work. She works as a therapist in an emergency psychiatric department, fielding patients who come in through the ER. She receives an incredibly distressed patient named Laura (Caitlin Stasey), who seems to be suffering from paranoid delusions.
Having previously witness her professor’s suicide a week earlier, Laura claims that since then she’s been haunted by some unknown force that comes to her in the form of hallucinating people smiling. Sometimes they’re the very people in front of her, and sometimes she sees family members who have been dead for years.
Following this grisly encounter, Rose herself begins to be plagued by the very same visions. Both her supervisor Dr. Desai (Kal Penn of Harold & Kumar and House fame) and her fiancé Tevor (Jessie T. Usher) become very concerned as her behavior gets more and more erratic. Eventually, Rose discovers that this plague of smiles accompanied by gruesome deaths runs far deeper than she ever thought.
A lot of what makes this movie so effective is in just how well it’s shot. Director Parker Finn utilizes a lot of subjective camera angles and movements that make the audience equally unsure as Rose whether or not something is real. This day in age, it’s hard to pull off a good jump scare because they’ve frankly been done to death. But the ones in Smile are used sparingly, and when they happen, they are bold and terrifying.
Rose feels an overwhelming sense of dread once everything starts happening, the movie is great at pulling the audience into that as well. Even in scenes that seem “normal” at first, the movie makes it clear that anything can happen at any time, and neither the characters (or the audience) are truly “safe” at any given time.
And aside from one scene in particular, Smile never delves too far into using cheap-looking CGI to get a scare. A lot of the effects at least look practical, and again the simplicity of using a creepy smile to convey terror is admittedly very basic, but that’s precisely why it’s so effective. Other horror films try too hard, and this one knows exactly what it’s doing.
Smile also does a great job of balancing dread with moments of brevity. And it never gets too lost in its own lore. It can be something of a double edged sword: explain too much and bore your audience, explain too little and confuse them. This movie is subtle when it needs to be, and gives us that perfect balance between under and over explaining the nature of its supernatural threat.
Smile remains an incredibly tense and disturbing supernatural thriller that dares to go places you wouldn’t expect. According to Paramount, it was initially meant to go straight to streaming, but tested well enough for a theatrical release, and upon seeing it, it’s obvious why. It’s exactly the kind of horror film built for seeing it with a group of friends in a crowded movie theater!
What did you think of Smile? Let us know in the comments!