I have not cheered for a lead character’s demise since Drag me To Hell. Written and directed by Parker Finn, Smile is the usual horror on a time limit. While I let out the occasional chuckle, the movie dragged on too long with too little to enjoy. Smile is a formulaic cash grab, oversaturated in jump scares and forgettable dialogue. There is tension, and the film has excellent cinematography but overall causes a grimace, not a grin.
Smile focuses on Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon). She treats mental health patients at a hospital, and from the intro, it is apparent Rose has some issue in her past that defines her current course. When Rose treats a new patient, the patient claims something evil passed to her after she witnessed her teacher’s suicide. The entity can assume anyone’s appearance, dead or alive, and is only discernible when it shows its creepy smile. Of course, Rose does not believe her, but when the patient kills herself in front of Rose, smiling all the while, odd events occur.
Let Smile Get Them All
Every character is annoying. Either it is the dialogue, the acting, or both. Rose’s fiance, Trevor (Jesse T. Usher), is more concerned with finding an unproblematic white woman, so this drama is not for him. The fact that Trevor does not delve into how Rose feels beyond perfunctory questions is a huge red flag. Rose’s sister, Holly (Gillian Zinser), meant to be the person audiences dislike, is more entertaining than Rose; a story about Holly and her husband would be hilarious.
Rose’s ex, cop Joel (Kyle Gallner), is comic relief in his complaints, but feels like a useless addition except when he provides info to Rose. But the most annoying character is Rose. Given her line of work, she, of all people, should know how society discounts people with mental health, especially when they are less than calm. Her outbursts rarely match the situation, and she alienates everyone around her, save Joel. Yet you do not feel bad. If I am asking someone a question and they immediately start cursing at me, best believe I am exiting stage left. Even Rose’s past trauma revelation is unsurprising.
Retire Jump Scares And “The Wall”
The directing reminds me of Flanagan, given its sleek quality and Finn’s handling of lighting, shadows, and tension. What disappointed me was the reliance on jump scares. Ratcheting up the sound with a feint or real threat gets insulting over time. Audiences can enjoy a horror film without this gimmick. Only two scenes made me jump, and it was not in fear but surprise; there is no terror in Smile.
The dialogue is dull lines that drag out a scene where Rose gets frustrated and snaps at someone. Even with proof, instead of saying, “thanks to a cop, I have proof that what is happening to me is real,” Rose opens the file on a picture of a dead body. It is hard to sympathize with someone whose behavior puts them deeper in a hole. When she tells Joel she put an emotional wall up to protect herself, I burst out laughing—heard that in too many films for it to be anything other than funny. There is no affection between them that warrants such a cliched speech.
Monster Inspires A Raised Eyebrow, Not A Dropped Jaw
The entity reminds me of a cross between Slenderman and the scary ventriloquist Mary Shaw in Dead Silence—because of the smile, but not near as impressive, just strange. When I saw it, I wondered how long it took to brush their teeth and use mouthwash. That must take up a lot of time; no wonder it takes them at least four days to claim their next victim. At least they leave it till the end.
I have hope for future Parker Finn films but this is not it. Smile’s tagline, “once you see it, it’s too late,” carries a sense of urgency the film lacks. Though useful as a film for a drinking game, Smile delivers yawns, not terror, except if you love jump scares. The use of mental health is also an issue. There is no regard or care, no purpose beyond common horror props. Smile may fall into the “so bad it’s good” category, but if chills and frights are what you want, this film is a solid disappointment filled with annoyance interspersed between moments of tedium, hilarity, and loud sounds.