All around, “Smile” is better than you’d ever expect. Relying on a tried-and-true evil curse formula, writer / director Parker Finn puts an extra-creepy spin on his story by adding a simple physical attribute – smiling – that is used to create a bone-chilling effect. This is the perfect scary movie to kick off Halloween season, and it’s one that should appeal to a wide variety of audiences who are seeking a fright.
The premise is genuinely terrifying: a therapist named Rose (Sosie Bacon) witnesses a shocking incident where a patient, convinced she is being stalked by a demon, commits suicide right in front of her. This causes Rose to have difficulty functioning day-to-day, and she’s ordered by her boss (Kal Penn) to take a leave of absence from work. That’s when frightening, unexplained things start happening, eventually driving the woman to the breaking point. It turns out that she has unwillingly been made the victim of a curse that’s passed down by a supernatural force that feeds on trauma. If she can’t find a way to disrupt the cycle, Rose won’t survive the week.
It’s a story that is both scary and tragic, with themes that run deeper than the simple jump scare (of which the film has plenty). The idea that humans are haunted by buried traumas of the past has been done before, but rarely presented in such an entertaining wrapper. If you take the film at face value, it’s a solid horror movie. Look closer and you’ll find an insightful metaphor.
Performance-wise, the cast is terrific. Bacon conveys an intensity that blurs the line between reality, imagination, and sanity. It’s not an easy role to play, and she sells it from the get-go. Kyle Gallner is a standout in his supporting turn as a friendly cop, as is Caitlin Stasey in an all-too-brief role as a troubled patient and Gillian Zinser as Rose’s sister, Holly. Only Jessie T. Usher unfortunately blends into the background as Rose’s fiancée, Trevor.
The story eventually veers off and doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially as it becomes clear that there’s an easy (if not so much for her) way for Rose to break the curse. That would tie up the loose ends too easily, so Finn stretches the ending almost to the breaking point. This is a horror movie, after all, which means even the smartest characters do the absolutely dumbest things.
The movie earns its R-rating with an expected amount of blood and gore (warning to animal lovers: a dead pet is shown onscreen), and it is a satisfying genre film overall. Fans of horror thrillers will want to seek out “Smile,” which is well done and scary as hell.