Smile Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
A creepy effective horror shocker: Parker Finn’s feature debut might be derivative of other scary movies, but it is terrifying nonetheless!
Director: Parker Finn
Cast: Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Jessie T. Usher, Robin Weigert, Gillian Zinser, Nick Arapoglou, Caitlin Stasey, Rob Morgan & Kal Penn.
Run Time: 115 min.
US Release: 30 September 2022
UK Release: 28 September 2022
German Release: 29 September 2022
I finally managed to catch a screening of Finn’s feature directorial debut. I had planned to see a showing at some point in time, though I wasn’t sure when, as I am fully booked this month. Thanks to friends who wanted to watch it in a larger group in cinemas, I got to see the shocker earlier than planned! Miraculously, I also managed to escape reviews, as well as spoilers, able to experience it without exterior interference. One thing we all could agree on, after leaving the screening room, is that it was very good! So put on a grin, as I’ll explain to you why Smile is worth seeing in theatres!
After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident that involved one of her patients, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences she can't explain. With family and friends beginning to avoid her, Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive her horrifying new reality.
A feature-length adaptation of his short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, Parker Finn’s debut picture Smile might resemble other horror flicks like Ring, It Follows, as well as using the creepy unnatural smiles of Truth or Dare, however, the idea itself is wholly original. The truth is, due to the reason that the director uses very similar tropes as in the first two films mentioned, it is inevitable to not compare them, making it Smile's biggest weakness, since it is inferior to the likes of Ring or It Follows.
Apart from those nitpicks, the story is fantastic. Finn manages to create unease, building non-stop tension from the first minute! Given the nature of the character’s surroundings and her upbringing, side roles are all forced to believe that her breakdowns are due to mental instability. It is quite a powerful tool, to twist the narrative against its lead, with audiences knowing that what she is experiencing is real. The director makes also the right call, by letting much of the happening be experienced from the main persona’s perspective.
The underlying theme is that of mental health. The main character was pushed into that profession due to her past, plus the traumatic event she witnesses in her session, inexplicably connects her to something else from that moment onwards. It all messes with the audience’s perception, not being able to trust if what witnessed is real or a simple trick. Then there is the fact that Finn creates masterful jump scares, which are ultra-effective. Yes, he does use a couple too many, nevertheless, it is always well-implemented!
Dialogues are emotionally tense, even - or especially - with personas that are supposed to be close to Rose. It always feels as if she keeps other people at a distance, which adds a feeling of solidarity to the whole anxious atmosphere. The mental deterioration is also very representative in the conversations.
Sosie Bacon pretty much carries this film by herself! She is the lead actress, there not being a single scene without her on screen. Thus, it is nice to see that the narrative takes time to explore the character’s background, her fears, just like her motivations. Contrary to other horror productions, we obtain a well-rounded persona, who comes with a troubled past but needs to push through it, to survive whatever is haunting her. Bacon was the absolute correct casting choice, simply nailing her role in every aspect.
Kyle Garner has a small part, as Rose’s ex-boyfriend and police detective Joel. He seems unfriendly at first, even a little too stalkerish, yet slowly turns into a reliable person one can count on. Garner himself, did well with the bit of screen time he had.
Opposite to Joel is Trevor, Rose’s fiance played by Jessie T. Usher. He seems at first reliable, though once things start to develop, he quickly shows his true face. It is a shame that the story kept him extremely superficial, not giving him a real background. Viewers don’t even get to know what he does professionally.
Rounding off the cast is Gillian Zinser as Rose’s sister Holly, plus Nick Arapoglou as Holly’s husband Greg. Two selff-centred, egoistic characters that have zero likeability.
The cinematography, by Charlie Sarroff, is among the movie’s strongest properties! Masterfully using pans, that very subtly hint at something in the distance, or in a dark area of the house. The team makes use of inverted aerial shots, intended to disorient audiences and increase the sense of discomfort. Lingering shots on personas or poorly lit corners of a room, wind up further tension. The colour palette jumps between sterile grey, in the hospital setting, to much darker colours in the outside world, as does the lighting,
The effects are to a great extent of practical nature, with lesser good-looking CGI elements implemented in the later third act. That said, the practical elements that are presented, are well-designed, even disturbing to look at sometimes.
The musical score, as well as the sound design, are equally brilliant! The music, crafted by Chilean-born composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, is disturbing and powerful! The base used to underline the terror is also effective, yet can take away from the visuals.
Verdict: Parker Finn’s feature-length debut, is a magnificent first supernatural horror, with a plot that starts off strong, never seizing to build suspense. However, it does start to lose steam during the last act, finishing with a very clichéd occurrence in the last twenty minutes, which included bad CGI. That said, the psychological themes of reality and delusion are powerful, as are the executed jump scares. Sosie Bacon is magnificent as Dr. Rose Cotter, a three-dimensional character one can root for, while the supporting cast has little screen time, popping up every once in a while. Dialogues are successful at creating discomfort, heightening the already tense mood. The cinematography and sound design, are among the productions' best characteristics, even if the sound effects downplay the brilliant camera work! The creepy music suits spectacularly well to the premise! This is a big recommendation to go see it in cinemas, especially during Halloween. Smile obtains a 7.5 out of 10.
Did you go see Smile yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Leave a comment to let me know what you thought. Thank you very much for reading!