Written by: Parker Finn
Starring: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan
Bouts with the aftermath of trauma are inexplainable and seemingly incurable as it impacts millions around the world. Something that has its challenges and becomes a metaphor for many stories to trying to wrap a narrative around its impacts. Smile is no different as it tries to integrate it into the world of horror and while there are plenty of scares to be brought in this film when it reaches its conclusion, it forgets the metaphor it was working with to a dangerous degree.
Working as a psychiatrist, Rose (Sosie Bacon) unexpectedly takes on a case of an individual who witnessed a traumatic suicide. This victim then bears a menacing grim right before killing herself right before Rose. As she continues to conduct research on this affliction, she learns of a horrifying future that may be ahead of her as she might be next.
The horror conceit of this film is nothing short of brilliant. A smile is something that, in general, brings people ease. Whether it be from a stranger on the street or a loved one. It can calm people down and build familiarity. However, there comes a point in a smile where it can be uncomfortable and downright frightening. Where the smile extends on the person’s mouth or remains present for a bit too long. This type of smile serves as the main source of horror in this feature, which allows for so much potential, and this film, in a sense, underutilizes what it has on its hands.
I’m not one to tell a filmmaker how to make their movie, but with something as frightening as the smile used in this feature, there should have been so many more instances where it appears in the film. After watching it, my wife and I even brainstormed the missed opportunities within the film where this horrifying facial feature could have been effective. Sure, the times it’s utilized in the feature do work but the missed potential cannot be kept quiet, especially for use in the dark. Just imagine, Rosie staring down a dark hallway and all she sees starting to form is a big scary smile in the dark. Okay, I will stop with my input, but just imagine the possibilities!
Criticism of this film mostly falls in the faulty way it utilizes its metaphor linking this smile to trauma and how it passes along to different individuals. It marks an interesting concept, which certainly cannot be argued but the trend of each person who sees the smile then killing themselves means this film, in a way, advocates for suicide being the natural resolution to the afflictions of trauma. An irresponsible representation of it and while that may not be the film’s intention, it certainly comes across that way. It serves as a reminder of the dangers of taking something that impacts real people and utilizing it as a metaphor for a film. The narrative liked the idea of using his mental illness as its metaphor but just could not find a way to effectively conclude its film without negative implications. That certainly comes down to the writing of the feature.
If you do not want to think about the narrative deeply then yes, this film delivers on the promises it gives in the trailer, albeit it gives away most of the best scares within the trailer, which is marketing malpractice in my estimation. The scares certainly work but the emotional core shines because of the performance of Sosie Bacon. She takes on the role of someone trying to figure this situation out and try to survive through it all and she does a splendid job during the screaming scenes and the emotionally tumultuous impact this has on the character. A sense of dread sits on her face throughout this feature and it certainly makes sense with what she has to encounter with her life on the line. It’s the first time I have experienced one of her films and I look forward to seeing her in more because she really brings it in this feature and shows out even when the narrative begins to let her down. She, along with this feature, knows what people want out of this story and it works as a whole. Do I have my quibbles? Yes, but we asked for big scary smiles and we got them, along with a fairly outlandishly wild ending as well that I did not expect.