Smile review: A hard to laugh horror movie that makes you grin

Polygon is at Fantastic Fest 2022, reporting on new horror, sci-fi and action movies coming to theaters and streaming. This review was published in conjunction with the Fantastic Fest movie premiere.

Parker Finn’s Horror First Film Smile carefully calibrated to do different things for different viewers. For someone not well versed in horror, it’s an efficient and effective carnival of scares, rife with big, startling scares and terrifying tension.

But it works completely differently for a horror-savvy crowd, who can spot how Finn repeats on other popular horror films and predict where the story will go from the very beginning. Smile often wink at the audience, keep quiet You know what happens next, don’t you? You can see how bad this can get, can’t you? It’s always easy to see what Finn is doing with his characters and where he’s heading the story – and that seems entirely intentional. Even so, it’s never easy to give up on impact when the promised terrible things come.

Work from a previous short film, 2020 Laura didn’t sleepFinn’s script barely takes long to determine who his protagonist is before her world begins to fall apart. Working in the hospital’s emergency psychiatry department, therapist Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is used to seeing people in crisis and talking to them. She then meets a severely concussion patient who says she’s haunted by some kind of malevolent entity that no one else can see, a creature with a terrifying grin that torments her. her by appearing in the guise of people she knows.

A woman smiles while bathing young children while young children stand in horror in Smile

Image: Paramount Pictures

The story sounds like a paranoid delusion – and when Rose tries to talk to the others about the evil, shape-shifting, invisible cursed creature, she sounds as if she’s also suffering from paranoia. . “I do not crazy‘, she announced to her blandly kind fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher), cute sister Holly (Gillian Zinser), and ex-therapist Madeline (Robin Weigert, in one role) a few light years away from her is DeadwoodJane’s Calamity). But Rose couldn’t figure out how to sound convincing when she said it, especially to a world that was skeptical and unsympathetic to the mentally ill.

Smile It’s usually a gimmicky, even corny horror movie, packed with so many horror scenes that it’s borderline funny. Finn uses loud, abrupt audio cues and brutally fast cuts to make viewers scream and flinch at mundane things like Rose biting into a hamburger or ripping through a hangnail. But no matter how excessively the legitimate fears pile up, they are startling and convincing. The editing and music are tuned impressively for maximum impact whenever slow-burning tension settles with a sudden, ugly surprise. All that makes Smile an efficient trip, if an unusually non-stop trip.

But Finn is like a magician showing the audience how the trick is done, then performing it so effectively that it still looks like magic anyway. His script samples Smile after Rings, when Rose goes through an inciting incident, discovers she’s on a deadline, enlists her reluctant but soulful ex to help her, then does research into the phenomenon, with disturbing results. But other movies after that Ringsbeats of just felt derivative (including some clumsy sequels by itself), Smile Use the familiarity of the story to establish anticipation. When Rose saw a possible solution to her problem, Smile invites viewers to consider the logical end to her discovery and wonder if she’s making the same selfish choice that Naomi Watts’ character has made Rings – And if so, who will bear the consequences?

Sosie Bacon as Rose in Smile Biting Her Finger as She Thinks About Her Obsession

Sosie Bacon as Rose in Smile
Walter Thomson, MPA approved.

Similar, Smileset of widely imitated set in It tracks, with a threat being spread from person to person, making its way to its next victim, while taking on many different faces, turning everyone in the protagonist’s life into a bondage. potential threat. But again, instead of feeling like a parody, Smile uses familiarity to heighten a sense of danger, until the viewer can’t believe anyone they see on screen is human – which puts them right inside Rose’s increasingly disintegrating mindset.

The human element in Smile carefully calibrated like a jump scare, in ways designed to keep the audience from worrying when they don’t flinch. Finn feeds the story into vulnerable potential victims: Longtime horror fans know to worry when it turns out that Rose has a love cat, or Holly has a sweet 7-year-old boy, or Joel , Rose’s ex (Kyle Gallner) is sensitive, open-minded and still loves her. (Kal Penn also appears as Rose’s supervisor, in a role seemingly specifically designed to provide a target for mayhem.) And how Rose is repressing childhood trauma. , which she shares partly with Holly and partly the reason for so much tension between them, establishing some particularly rich emotional underpinnings. Smile almost effective in setting for disaster: It’s bare-bones storytelling, with every new character or element designed to reinforce a sense of dread about who might die and how bad it is. how.

The film’s central theme also adds to the sense of fear. From the moment a police officer shirks his responsibility of investigating a grotesque death by writing to his victim with a cavalier “She sounds crazy!”, it is clear in his heart, Smile is about the stigma surrounding mental illness and the urge to dismiss or make those who navigate it evil.

Rose walked out of a burning building with tears in her eyes in Smile

Image: Paramount Pictures

Finn finds fertile ground in the vast and possibly uncontrollable gap between sufferers and even well-intentioned onlookers. The audience’s sympathy is probably for Rose, who is living with a horror she doesn’t know how to fight. But it’s also understandable why others would feel uncomfortable trying to deal with a woman behaving erratically and even dangerously, while blaming it all on some kind of incomprehensible fear demon. .

The deeper version of this film can delve deeper into the ambiguity of Rose’s circumstances, raising the question of whether she is really going through a psychotic episode, due to stress, work. overexertion and legitimate injury caused or not. Finn chooses to avoid that path, making it clear that something supernatural is at work. It’s a sensible choice to make in a movie where fear piles on top of fear, letting the audience anticipate the worst that could happen, while also really caring about those who may suffer when it happens. However, it still robs Smile of latent sophistication.

But there’s nothing wrong with a horror movie designed to terrify audiences rather than playing games with them. As a writer-director, Finn seems to know that people can go to horror movies for different reasons, some more intellectual and some more emotional. Either way, he does an impressive job of making sure they’re all satisfied and at least a little shaken.

Smile in theaters on September 30.

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