“It looks like people.” Smile Review

Like I’m sure many others, I had seen a bunch of TV spots for the movie Smile over the last few weeks, and I was far from sold on it. I though it looked like a pretty trashy and gimmicky kind of horror film, sort of like a mid-grade Blumhouse effort. I never saw a full trailer for it until before a screening of Fletch Lives, and it left me thinking it might be worth seeing.

Well if you like horror movies, it definitely is. It’s more than a little derivative of some better movies such as It Follows and any version of The Ring, but there are certainly worse movies to take inspiration from.

Smile is written and directed by Parker Finn, based on a short film of his from a few years ago. It stars Sosie Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick. Our screening started with an on-screen introduction from Finn and Bacon, thanking us for coming to see Smile in a theater where it was meant to be seen. It was weird, to say the least, and seemed almost reactionary on the part of distributor Paramount, towards the slew of recent streaming and same-day VOD releases. [Editor’s note: Paramount has done this with several films this year, most notably Top Gun: Maverick with Tom Cruise]

If you’ve seen any of the TV spots, you probably know what Smile‘s about. Bacon plays a psychiatrist, Rose Cotter, who sees one of her patients kill herself, and now she is seeing a creepy demonic smile more or less everywhere she looks. Like in It Follows, this smile-demon can take the form of basically anyone—someone Cotter doesn’t know, someone she does, or even someone who is dead.

Through the course of the film, Cotter learns that there is a chain of suicides, all with people who had witnessed a suicide within the last week. One of the best scenes in the movie, though, is when she investigates the one case that seems to be the one outlier. If I have a complaint it’s that it took the character too long to figure out what exactly was going on, because it seemed pretty obvious when watching. I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a film that holds your hand through its story, but it’s not exactly subtle in its metaphor for trauma.

There are really three things that held this movie together for me. The first is Sosie Bacon, who is really spectacular. She has so many great moments where she’s trying to hold keep her sanity in check. Some of the best moments of the movie are just when she’s sitting in her car freaking out or trying to hold everything in.

The second thing that really worked for me was the music. This movie didn’t have a full opening credits sequence. Instead it had a cold open and then I think just Parker Finn’s name somewhere a few minutes into the movie, so when the music was doing its thing I couldn’t help but think it might have been scored by Disasterpeace, the composer behind It Follows. It didn’t sound like that music exactly, but it reminded me of it in how it just sounded like things were breaking down. And the music didn’t hit as hard when the scares themselves were on screen, but more so when the camera focused on Bacon’s reactions to what she had seen, which I thought was an interesting choice. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent and unique score from Cristobal Tapia de Veer.

The last thing that the movie excels at is the visuals. Maybe you don’t find someone smiling from ear to ear for no good reason all that scary, in which case the movie’s visuals probably won’t work as well for you. Regardless, though, the movie has a unique visual style that focuses more on victim than perpetrator, makes excellent use of lighting, and when it’s finally time for some deliciously creepy makeup effects, the movie does not let up, which was a pleasant surprise.

The movie is far from perfect. While Bacon and even Kyle Gallner, playing her ex-boyfriend police officer, are great, some of the other supporting parts leave a lot to be desired. The movie also introduces the idea of this demonic entity causing you to hallucinate in terms of not just seeing a smile, but experiencing things that don’t actually happen, and the movie probably relies on that a bit too much.

However, this is a perfect way to start off the month of October. It’s got atmosphere to spare and the right amount of jump scares to keep you satiated as you wait for the month’s later horror releases.  

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