Smile review: A studio film that’s actually scary

4 mins read

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

While delivering on the scares, the anticipated horror might not be one of the classics in the genre- but the director is one to watch.

Director Parker Finn got the opportunity to extent his short film, Laura Hasn’t Slept (2020) into the full feature length Smile, and as far as a first outing goes, it’s certainly not bad. It’s actually pretty good.

The film focuses on the life of a therapist working in an emergency psychiatric unit (a great acting performance from Sosie Bacon) whose world is turned upside down when psychology and the supernatural meet in trauma. After witnessing bizarre events relating to her patients, she goes through increasingly disturbing and daunting experiences, leading her to believe what she is experiencing is supernatural.

Soon into viewing, I made mental comparisons to the film It Follows (2014) with regards to some plot elements, yet the film ticks all the right boxes to separate it from the categorisation of a knock-off or rip-off and is very different with regards to some other plot elements; it’s not the same film.

Instead, Smile offers a huge dollop of jump-scare, with a plot and narrative that tackle the nature of trauma, suicide, and mental illness. The film is in many ways pretty metaphorical, yet grounded and accessible enough for any fans of Insidious to classics like The Exorcist.

However, it does fall a little into the pitfalls that can tend to prevent modern horror from creating a scary experience without relying on jump-scare, which is overused and predictable.

In saying that, the jump-scares got me good and weren’t cheap – they made sense, they weren’t entirely predictable and I’m not ashamed to admit I got freaked at a few scenes. There is an intensity and pacing that is almost cruel to watch. This is a director who knows how to get under your skin.

The film’s ultimate irony is that without the “Smile” aspect of Smile, it perhaps just isn’t as scary. I envisioned the entire film without that particular aspect (you’ll know when you see it) and it perhaps lessens the overall impact of the film.

Uncanny valley, the idea that imperfectly resembled actual human beings provoke uncanny or strangely familiar feelings of uneasiness and revulsion in observers, is used to great effect in the film. Many elements of the film that stand out for me are when the perception of our therapist protagonist is just entirely unreliable; it was genuinely terrifying at points to realise that things are not as they appear, a trick done in many films but to arguably satisfactory levels in Smile that some cheaper jump-scare laden films lack.

It’s a studio film that’s actually scary. I’m one of these people that thinks The Nun (2018), The Conjuring (2013) etc have some scary bits but are churned out for profit- everyone loves a jump-scare!

But is Smile without the creepy “smile” aspect as scary? Unless an extremely good deepfake arises, we will never know.

Sosie Bacon delivered a great performance; the supporting cast around her… I wouldn’t be racing to sing their praise, aside from a few outliers.

Director Parker Finn is, in my opinion, one to watch on the horror scene. If he continues to produce films of this style and can delve deeper into the psychological aspects of fear as he has begun to in Smile, we could have a pretty interesting director on the scene.

Unless Hollywood nabs him and the Blumhouse factory adds him to the roster of ‘jump-scare, little substance’ darlings.

Featured Image Credit: Smile Official Website

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Aspiring writer, loves visual art.

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