SMILE movie poster | ©2022 Paramount Pictures

SMILE movie poster | ©2022 Paramount Pictures

Rating: R
Stars: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Robin Weigert, Kal Penn, Judy Reyes, Gillian Zinser, Dora Kiss
Writer: Parker Finn
Director: Parker Finn
Distributor: Paramount
Release Date: September 30, 2022

SMILE is a horror movie in a specific subgenre that has given rise to a variety of different individual films and film franchises, mainly in the U.S. and in Japan. There is nothing in the least wrong with this subgenre – done right, they work like gangbusters and frighten the living whatever out of people.

But there are a few things that this, or any, horror subgenre must not do. The most important commandment here is arguably to not treat the audience like we’ve never seen anything like this before.

This is one of the places where SMILE writer/director Parker Finn stumbles. Consequently, a majority of viewers will be way, way ahead of main character Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon).

Rose is a psychiatrist working long hours at a big-city hospital for emergency psych patients. She’s almost done with her shift when a terrified young woman, Laura (Caitlin Stasey), is admitted. *Rose takes Laura’s case. Laura, a PhD grad student, witnessed one of her professors kill himself. Now, Laura tells Rose, she’s hallucinating, and seeing a persistent something that can take on many menacing guises. The thing has a malevolent smile. Then Laura screams that she can see it, it’s in the room. Suddenly, Laura’s demeanor changes. She smiles – and kills herself in front of the horrified, helpless Rose. *We can forgive both the filmmakers and Rose for at first assuming that her own reactions to this are the result of the trauma of observing an unexpected suicide. But it seems to take Rose forever to realize things that most viewers will deduce in an instant.

There is also the issue of Rose herself. This is not the fault of Bacon, who commits emotionally to the role. The script gives Rose a deep back story, which makes her more interesting (albeit we learn it very late).

However, this doesn’t make us more sympathetic toward Rose’s resentful, self-absorbed demeanor. We’ve seen depictions of psychiatrists who care more about patients than the people in their day-to-day lives. It can make for good drama, but simply doesn’t work here.

Finally, while SMILE has some fine grotesque visuals – there’s a great one in the finale – it somehow mistimes every jump scare. Either we get too much information of exactly when something is going to pop into frame, or the sound hits at the wrong time in conjunction to the image, so that we’re never really startled.

There are also some miscalculations of details. For example, one dropped glass is understandable. Two starts to feel unintentionally comedic. A third incident with breaking glass creates a motif.

Stasey does a solid job of conveying Laura’s fear, and Robin Weigert has class as Rose’s psychiatrist. Jessie T. Usher is persuasively concerned as Rose’s fiancé, Kyle Gallner gets the tone right as Rose’s ex, and Kal Penn makes the most of his turn as Rose’s worried boss.

SMILE at least isn’t dull; something is always happening, even when we can guess what it will be beforehand. Also, the basics make it easy to turn SMILE into a franchise, which may be the ultimate goal here. If so, let’s hope the sequel improves on the original.

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Article: Movie Review:  SMILE

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