I was excited about the film Smile, and I was excited to both watch and write about the film. I will admit, a lot of my anticipation had to do less with the film itself and more with the success it has received at the box office. Most of you don’t care about how much dough a film rakes in at the theater, and I respect that, but it does matter. It matters more than a statistic, as it can help us understand why some things are the way they are. It can explain why studios fixate on certain niche genres (Paranormal Activity brought a new craze in found footage horror and, now, the Halloween reboot has brought new life to the slasher genre) and it can tell you the likelihood of your favorite horror flick receiving a sequel.
Smile is a lot of fun to write about because it is a new film. It isn’t a sequel or a spin-off, or a remake, but a new intellectual property altogether. As much as I did enjoy the new Scream film and appreciated the attempts on Halloween Ends and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I absolutely love that Smile is the highest grossing horror film for 2022 (second is Jordan Peele‘s original film Nope, third is Scott Derrickson‘s original film The Black Phone). That’s what we need to keep the genre moving forward.
Smile is a psychological / supernatural horror film directed by Parker Finn in his feature length directorial debut (his other prior effort Laura Hasn’t Slept was the base of this film). The film, roughly speaking, is about a psychiatrist named Rose who witnesses a patient commit suicide in front of her. Beforehand, the patient spoke of an “entity” of some kind that tormented her, often donning a haunting faux smile as it did. Afterward, Rose finds herself succumbing to a similar fate, followed by a human-like figure that seems intent on her demise.
Daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Sosie Bacon (who I last wrote about in the film Charlie Says) stars as the lead with a cast of familiar faces like Kal Penn, Jessie T. Usher, and Kyle Gallner (who was a real frequenter of the horror genre in the late 2000s).
Although Smile is an original film, like its antagonist, it wears a lot of other peoples’ faces. As you might surmise from the premise itself, Smile looks to offer a commentary on trauma and mental illness, akin to what a lot of horror films have done in recent years. The way this film is laid out is a very mainstream approach, akin more to Lights Out than Hereditary, both of which dealt with mental illness in an indirect way, with Hereditary ending up on the weirder (but fantastic) side of things and Lights Out being a more conventional ghost horror film. The way this film is paced and how the story unfolds, it also reminds me vaguely of Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, with how the film calls the protagonists’ sanity into question, when we already know the answer.
As a unique take on mental illness, the themes of Smile have already been done and, frankly, done better, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate some of what it had to say on the subject.
The concept itself is very similar to It Follows and almost even results in an “aha!” moment because of it. Both films deal with an entity that pursues them and tries to kill them. Both films also deal with how to counteract the cyclical presence in a similar way. All of that in mind, while I would say it was highly influenced, Smile handles the subject in a very different way. Whereas It Follows felt almost like a relic of a bygone era, from a director who felt like a student of eighties horror, this film feels more epic and grandiose, I’ve heard a comparison to The Ring thrown around, and I think that’s appropriate to how the film is paced.
As a film, I liked Smile. In fact, I want to make certain to illustrate that fact. It isn’t as good as It Follows or The Invisible Man, and isn’t original enough to surpass The Ring, but it is a damn solid horror film.
The story, while familiar, is well paced and thoughtful, and doesn’t have any instances in it where I felt it particularly fumbled the material. The film shows how to do a jump scare and how to do it well, and housed a handful of genuinely inspired and creepy moments sprinkled in. The sound work is decent, offering peculiar, not-quite right loops to decent effect. Sosie Bacon also makes for a charismatic lead that helps to elevate the film. Considering the sheer amount of horror films that muck around, one shouldn’t overlook a film of Smile’s standard.
All in all, I would recommend Smile as a good entry in the horror genre, one that borrows a lot, but makes very good use of the ingredients it takes to create something of its own.