Review: Smile – a superior horror shocker

Smile - Sosie Bacon

Smile is a creepy psychological horror film directed by Parker Finn and if you are looking for a movie at the weekend, this is the pick of the new releases.

Like a lot of films that are developed today (whether for cinematic release or streaming services), you get the feeling that they started as really good ideas but couldn’t support the weight of being strung out to a 90-minutes+ feature. Bodies, Bodies, Bodies and Jordan Peele’s Nope are prime examples. However, Smile is not one of those movies.

Superficially, Smile follows the standard horror/curse themes explored in The Ring, The Grudge, It Follows, etc. You know you’ve seen something nasty and now you’ve got a week to live before you meet a grisly end. This is where Parker Finn goes off-road rather than staying in his lane, bending the boundaries between perceived scary stuff (the bogey man) and the actual scary stuff like losing your mental capability and being treated like a nut.

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Smile kicks off with workaholic psychiatrist Rose (Sosie Bacon) doing the ward rounds talking to patients, doing double shifts, being an all-round good egg and effectively establishing her credentials as a servant for the public good. However, a last-minute emergency call puts her ordered suburban life on full spin when an apparently delusional patient commits suicide in front of her – but not before first filling in the blanks of the curse that is about to befall Rose.

Unnerved by the incident and a series of disturbing apparitions from her troubled past (Yes, Rose has a chequered history), Rose is given a bit of ‘me time’ to clear her head. Do you think she uses the time productively to recharge her batteries and process the trauma? Nope.

Finn fleshes out Rose as a character a bit at this point as we see her therapist and her mother’s mental health issues and suicide, and we also meet her decidedly middle-class sister, who carries none of the baggage of her dead mum.

Anyway, what is a horror film for if the protagonist acts competently and processes her feelings of guilt rather than, you know, listening to the rantings of a patient and developing a mania that she has only a few days left to live?

Her fiancé (Jessie Usher) is unsympathetic, but he is the wettest other half ever committed to film, so in the grand scheme of things she is better off without him. 

Her sister disowns her after she gives her nephew a horrific birthday surprise as her grip on reality begins to slide. Luckily for Rose, she has an ex who is a detective and foregoing all sensible procedures, he agrees to investigate the background of the patient who committed suicide. Shock horror – he uncovers a series of deaths all bearing the same hallmark and time stamp.

The film gathers pace as Rose’s reality disintegrates into a terrifying series of hallucinations and flashbacks as the demonic presence gets ever closer to her.

The final act of the film is an absolute belter. No point spoiling it for you, but it works very well and is genuinely unsettling. In short, Smile is an excellent debut feature for writer/director Finn. It is well-paced and manages to side-step many of the stereotypic horror tropes but still allows itself a few comedy moments and obligatory jump scares.

This is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is all the better for it.

Smile

Smile is released in cinemas nationwide from Thursday 28 September.

Photo by Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. © 2022 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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OnTheBox Score 8

Verdict

Rule 101 of horror films: never go in the creepy, broken down house in the final act of a film. Nothing good is coming of it! Smile is a really good shocker that ditches the schlock and nails the horror.

8/10Scary, surprising and some good laughs.
Review: Smile – a superior horror shocker
Gareth Hargreaves