by Daniel Mendes, TheCinebuff.com
“Smile though your heart is aching.” Part horror and part psychological drama, Parker Finn’s debut feature Smile is a scary good time. Sosie Bacon stars as Dr. Rose Carter, a therapist who harbors traumas of her own. Following the gruesome suicide of her patient, Rose soon begins to experience strange and supernatural occurrences.
One thing Smile has going for it is its atmosphere. Similar to films like The Ring and Oculus, there is a constant sense of dread and evil that follows the main character wherever she goes. Following the inciting incident, Rose begins to see disturbing images of her patient smiling from a dark corner of her immaculate home. As the events progressively worsen, Rose has to find a way to stop the evil before the evil overtakes her. Director Parker Finn shows tremendous restraint during these moments and allows each sequence to breathe before delivering the big scare. Adding to the atmosphere, is Charlie Sarroff’s cinematography which utilizes the darkness and muted colors to further mask the supernatural entity that haunts our protagonist.
No horror movie is complete without its heroine, and Sosie Bacon is the emotional anchor that holds this film together. As the story progresses, her character becomes increasingly unhinged which makes this not just a great horror performance, but a stellar dramatic one. Rose’s journey to solve the mystery and stop the monster is ultimately cathartic.
Over the past few years, there has been an influx of high-concept horror films thanks in part to A24. While Smile does fall into the usual horror tropes, it also manages to be a deeply unsettling character drama with more than a few clever scares.
A simple smile can carry many different meanings. It can express happiness or be a mask to conceal something darker. On its surface, Smile is a generic horror movie with jump scares galore, but it also works as a psychological thriller dealing with themes of repressed family trauma and how it can be passed down. The film is at its best when it plays with those ideas. What keeps the film from being outstanding is its reliance on genre tropes. If you’re not a fan of horror, this won’t do anything to convert you, but for fans of the genre, this is well worth watching in the theater.