Genre films have always lent themselves as an avenue to explore deep, human issues. The powers that be might always shove them to the back of the pack when it comes to considering the merit of a well devised horror film. More and more though, people are realizing just how cathartically powerful the themes horror can portray. From well placed social media postings to deviously placing actors at major league baseball games staring down cameras with mischievous grins; the team behind Smile are aiming to scare and effect audiences around the world. But, are they late to the game?
As one of the top doctors in an emergency psych ward, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is no stranger to patients being admitted with strange and worrisome mental conditions. If she didn’t come back to answer her phone, she would have missed dealing with a new patient exhibiting signs of every paranoid illness known to man.
During their intake interview, things take a turn when her new patient starts to scream and writhe around on the floor. Running to call for help, Rose is discerned to suddenly hear the screaming stop. When she finds her patient standing quietly with a big grin on her face, Rose is not prepared for what happens next. Rose is more than just affected by the events of that day, as soon after she finds herself being stalked by a strange entity that is messing with her well being.
As previously stated, Smile has one of the best marketing campaigns a horror film has seen in years. The clip of Rose sitting in her car while a woman approaches to suddenly twist the top half of her body down into the shot with that terrifying grin was enough to get me interested. However, the end result of Smile is lacking compared to its contemporaries. Smile is essentially It Follows by way of The Ring. It takes a lot of its style and approach from It Follows and wraps up its moral tale in the vein of The Ring. There is nothing wrong being compared to these films, but the similarities are so on point that it is tough to see past them. There is even a face of death flash moment not that unlike the jarring closet reveal from The Ring.
A more detrimental flaw comes from Smile’s place among its more contemporary rivals. The balance between a straightforward horror flick and a thoughtful discovery of the damage of past traumas/anxiety/depression, etc. is not even thinly veiled. It’s very matter of fact and obvious. And while a film like The Nighthouse is very blatant with its mentions and characterizations of depression, the balance between the story and theme are very well layered. This leaves for an extremely satisfying discussion about mental health in conjunction with the actions of the film. And when you put Smile next to films like The Nighthouse or Midsommar, it really isn’t a fair battle.
Will Smile freak some people out? Yes (I certainly wasn’t). Will it make people even laugh? Yes (I didn’t do much of that, either). This isn’t a sad sack of a movie, but it drowns itself in trying to be more deep than it is. That is in terms of both story and style. There are a lot of lovely looking shots of cityscapes and backwoods roads that are thrown on their axis to disoritant the viewer. And while those shots can easily be played off as metaphors for Rose’s state of mind, they feel more like moments of flash and not meaningful intent.
Smile suffers from being too predictable. Jump scares fall flat and jokes feel out of place. There is a creepiness factor that comes along with the material, but it doesn’t elevate itself about the rest of the film. Leaving the theater, I was settled with more of blank stare than a smile.
Final Grade: C-