Release Date – 28th September 2022, Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Parker Finn
Therapist Rose (Sosie Bacon) finds a curse attached to her, passed on through witnessing traumatic events. With an uncertain amount of days left until it catches up with her she must learn what it is and how to defeat it.
There’s no denying that Smile certainly justifies its 18 rating in the opening few minutes. As therapist Dr Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) watches a patient of hers commit suicide right in front of her. It’s one of a number of gory moments throughout the film and yet while this creates some horror, alongside a handful of unsettling images throughout the film, where it succeeds the best in creating tension is its snaps back to reality from the supernatural. The traumatic event which Rose witnesses early in the film passes on a curse to her. Initially haunting her and playing tricks on her mind, and those around her, the force – displaying itself as large, creepy smiles on the faces of people Rose knows or is around – soon begins to attack Rose, with her having to somehow defeat it with an uncertain amount of days before it reaches her and continues the chain to the next victim/ witness.
Yet, noone around the central figure is able to see what Rose sees. Writer-director Parker Finn doesn’t quite bring in a sense of ambiguity here, it’s largely acknowledged that what Rose sees is something that’s actually stalking and threatening her. While there’s some tension built up in some of the attacks a lot of the horror comes in the effects afterwards, seeing the ways in which the curse has played with Rose’s mind and begins to affect her relationships and actions. A particular snap back into reality at her nephew’s birthday party is one of the most unsettling sequences in the film due to the way the events begin to merge into each other as Rose tries to deal with multiple things at once in a situation she doesn’t overly understand herself. It causes her to become distanced in her relationships – including to her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher). It’s evident that everyone views her as becoming increasingly unstable due to the fact that she starts to wear baggier, scruffier clothes with her hair down (the initial title for the film when entering production was Something’s Wrong With Rose).
It’s some of the more conversational moments between characters, especially between Rose and Trevor, which somewhat bring the horror to a halt throughout the film. They feel more dialled down and simply don’t click as well as the suspense of the more investigative sequences into what the curse (eventually credited as simply ‘The Monstrosity’) actually is and how it might be able to be stopped, at least for Rose. Such instances cause the film to begin to feel a bit on the longer sider, at nearly two hours overall, particularly when it comes to the final stages which begin to feel quite drawn out themselves. This partly being down to the fact that much is introduced into the film, including some characters, largely for convenience and moving the narrative along with not always a great deal of detail/ push beyond. Bordering on the basics of Chekov’s childhood.
When focusing on horror the film is at its strongest. There are some good jump scares alongside scenes of genuine suspense and tension within reality and the supernatural; gradually coming together over the course of the film. When mixed with some truly unsettling imagery, particularly in the latter stages, there are some truly clever patches of horror which appear throughout. They may be dampened afterwards by the arrival of a more talky scene which leans away from the built-up tension, but luckily they manage to arrive again and still create an effect. You’re still able to engage with them, and the film as a whole – even if it does begin to slightly push its run-time. Perhaps slightly uneven in places due to its shifts in tone and occasional wobbles there’s still enough within Smile to create suspense and an effective fear factor within scenes which focus on creating just that.
While somewhat tonally uneven, and slightly overlong, when it focuses on horror and suspense Smile certainly has a tense effect. Even after slightly dampening conversational scenes, investigation and snaps between reality and the supernatural still manage to create scares.