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‘Smile’ (review)

It is not the first time nor will it be the last that a feature length horror film adapts the premise utilized for a horror short film in the hopes of drawing in a theatrical audience.

At this point, you could easily argue that horror filmmakers on the rise can effectively pitch themselves with a well-crafted, self-financed short film, as it has been proven time and time again that a significant, positive online response to short form indie efforts will get the attention of studios, as a feature film having a background as a viral short film is a quite effective marketing tool after all.

And Smile is no different.

While the premise of a horror film that sees death foreshadowed by diabolical smiles will inevitably remind many a gorehound of the abysmal Truth or Dare, thankfully, Smile manages to undo much of the damage the aforementioned 2018 cinematic turd had done to creepy smiles, and Smile effectively manages to make that particular facial expression eerie once more.

Opening with a therapy session gone horribly wrong, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is trying to help patient Laura (Caitlin Stasey) when the latter suddenly dons an unsettling smile before taking her own life in a most brutal manner.

After witnessing this deeply traumatizing incident, Rose’s life and sanity begins to unravel as she increasingly struggles with paranoid delusions due to an impending sense of doom of something lurking in the shadows, waiting to claim Rose as its next victim, and Smile pulls no punches in unsettling the viewer as the plot unfolds and the truth becomes known.

Considering how poorly Truth or Dare went over, Smile is almost a downright masterpiece in comparison, as it manages to build and sustain tension and suspense enough to deliver some rather effective scares with lashings of blood and other grim visuals thrown into the mix.

However, that is not to say that Smile covers any new ground in the horror genre as such – and the plot in general and the character motivations of some supporting characters in particular do not hold up to too much scrutiny – but what Smile does have is an abundance of atmosphere.

Being at the center of the narrative as the latest person seeing alarming visions involving eerie smiles, the film relies heavily on Sosie Bacon to carry the film, and she manages to deliver a solid performance as a largely relatable protagonist who has to sell her terror to the audience as she navigates her ordeal.

Additionally, the film manages to warp the sense of what is real and what is imagined so sufficiently that it from time to time may catch the viewer off-guard, much in the same manner as the protagonist is tricked.

The gore is confrontational in a manner that justifies the film’s rating without going overboard and doing gore simply for the sake of gore.

Similarly, the film also utilizes a fair few jump scares throughout, but thanks to its suspenseful atmosphere and the constant uncertainty of what is real and what is not, these jump scares overwhelmingly pay off instead of being a nuisance.

The horror movie genre has, ironically, been pronounced dead every few years since its inception, and while there certainly is a lot of dreck being churned out, there are still worthwhile efforts being made.

Smile may not be the very best of the 2022 horror alumni, but it is certainly not among the worst either, as it is a solid, atmospheric effort that delivers on suspense, gore and scares in that bread-and-butter way we so often take for granted.

Verdict: 7 out of 10.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey,
Isaac Klausner, Robert Salerno
Based on Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn
Written and Directed by Parker Finn
Starring Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner,
Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan

 

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