The following review contains spoilers for the movie Smile.
What do you get when you throw 'It Follows', 'The Ring' and 'The Grudge' in a blender and polish it off with a hokey twist on mental health?
Watching Smile reminded me one of my biggest fears in life is nobody believing me when I admit to being haunted by a demonic entity. In Parker Finn’s clunky flick about the persistence of trauma, psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is cursed after witnessing one of her patients graphically die by suicide. This movie does not stray from the blueprint its creative predecessors laid out before it, playing as a smorgasbord of ideas taken from other popular films in this genre. The premise is meant to be a metaphor for trauma’s intimate association to mental illness. In Smile, the curse is passed on when you witness the suicide of the person who is currently haunted. When Rose witnesses her patient’s death, she inherits the curse and only has a few days to discover how to stop it before she dies and passes it on.
Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter in Parker Finn's 2022 horror film 'Smile'.
Smile is essentially a two-hour supercut of predictable jump scares and regurgitated horror that feels dull, unoriginal and excruciating at times. The film falls frequently into story lulls, surrendering more screen time to Rose’s hallucinations than to the consequential plot at hand. Smile is at its best when it focuses on the mystery behind this curse, as a portion of the film follows Rose on her journey to investigate the connection between her experience and that of those who’ve died before her. Bacon’s performance is valiant and her character is given a thoughtful and transformative arc. Rose starts the film as a meek and passive person, afraid of opening up about her trauma to those in her life due to a fear of being fully seen. Facing the possibility of death invokes her metamorphosis, intelligently written by Finn to represent how she’d spent most of her life wearing a fake smile.
This isn’t really a cerebral or thought-provoking film. The folklore is somewhat flimsy and the scare tactics often feel cheap. The genuine horror lies in the movie’s premise, which isn’t enough to give it the foundation necessary for a gripping two-hour venture. Instead, Smile serves up a series of jump scares in the hopes it’ll distract you from the fact that the movie isn’t actually scary.