Movie Review: ‘Smile’

Review by James Lindorf

In 2020 Writer and Director Parker Finn released “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” his second short film. Now he has partnered with Paramount Pictures to adapt that film into his first feature film, “Smile.” The new R-Rated film is the best horror debut since Ari Aster burst onto the scene with “Heredity” in 2018. “Smile” is currently playing in theaters everywhere and will eventually be released on Paramount+.

Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is a compassionate and dedicated psychiatrist in a New Jersey hospital. Due to her own traumatic past witnessing her mother’s suicide Rose has dedicated her life to helping those in emotional and mental distress. When a new patient is brought to her, Rose does everything she can to make a connection, but it isn’t enough to prevent the woman from ending her life bizarrely and terrifyingly. Shortly after, Dr. Rose starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain with an increasing frequency. As terror takes over her life, Rose must confront her past and the assumptions made about her because of what happened.

Two things make “Smile” stand above many recent horror films. The first and easiest to point to is the performance of Sosie Bacon. The daughter of famous parents Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Sosie has been acting consistently since 2014. She has been a part of many notable projects, including last year’s “Mare of Easttown,” but has yet to have something where she stood out above the rest. That has changed thanks to a fantastic performance here, and it’s not because she was acting against nobodies. The supporting cast includes talented actors like Jessie T. Usher (The Boys), Kyle Gallner (Scream), Robin Weigert (Deadwood), and Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle). While Rob Morgan (Don’t Look Up) doesn’t have more than a glorified cameo, it is easily the most impactful moment in the entire film. From the second he enters the frame until he leaves approximately 2 minutes later, he owns the film.

The second element was Finn, who made many wise choices as a director. The first was with the score of the film, which is best described as atonal. It contains reminders of some classic horror themes but also uses a lot of moans, groans, and screeches, both human and otherworldly, to keep you on edge. Another way Finn keeps things uneasy is with his shot selection. The camera work is pretty standard, but at times it moves in unexpected ways or cuts to an unexpected angle, and our brains are programmed from years of horror films to expect something scary to happen. When it doesn’t come, and we start to calm down, Finn hits us with the jump scare. This constant build-up makes all the cheap and earned scares much more effective.

With a runtime of 115 minutes, “Smile” did suffer from excess. Trimming five to fifteen minutes would have given the movie a better flow. As it is, the scares ramp up in the first act and then plateau for about 30 minutes before moving into the climax. Finn should have been constantly elevating the horrors happening to Rose. “Smile” is another entry in that horror subgenre that involves a curse, ghost, or other evil malady passed from one person to the next. When asked to name similar films, Denzel’s cult hit “Fallen,” critic’s darling “It Follows,” or panned box office hit “Truth or Dare” may all come to mind. “Smile” follows a similar outline as most of those films, which is to be expected with a first-time writer and director. There is safety in the familiar for both the creator and the studio. “Smile” also suffers from some of the typical faults, like characters just dropping out and not having a fully developed backstory.

“Smile” is poised for significant box office success as we move into the Halloween season and audiences clamor for horror films. Thanks to the wonderful technical elements involved, Finn is poised for a substantial breakout with many more movies in his future. With more writing experience or working with an established writer, Finn could provide us with a horror classic. “Smile” earned a 4 out of 5 from me and is an easy recommendation for horror fans and people who dream of making movies.

Rating: R
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
Original Language: English
Director: Parker Finn
Producer: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Robert Salerno
Writer: Parker Finn
Release Date: September 30th, 2022
Runtime: 1h 55m

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