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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

Smile: Review

Dedicated trauma counselor Dr. Rose Cotter finds herself possessed by a sinister force posing with a foreboding smile in Smile. I can't lie; my expectations for Smile weren't the highest after viewing the film's vague marketing materials. Fortunately, the final product offers a terrifying thrill ride bolstered by commendable thematic ambitions.

If anything, Smile should represent a breakout effort for writer/director Parker Finn. From his haunting tracking shot opening onward, Finn establishes a foreboding visual voice as a filmmaker. It's easy for some horror filmmakers to elicit cheap thrills through buckets of bloodshed and pandering jump scares. Under Finn's guidance, Smile thankfully never sells itself short for gimmicky moments.

Finn controls the camera precisely, extracting a sense of slow-burn tension that keeps Rose's devolving mental state in the front view mirror. He and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff also utilize uncomfortably intimate framing choices and muted color tones effectively as tools to extenuate the material's underlying dread. As for the frightening imagery, Parker displays sensible tact in utilizing scares only when it's called for in the material. The patient approach makes the nightmarish blips of repulsive imagery all the more terrifying as Parker conjures equally inventive and unsettling set pieces that will likely linger long after the credits.

Finn displays an equally keen perspective when it comes to his screenplay. In a climate where several horror films exploit mental illness as a cheap explanation for their dopey narratives, Smile ruminates on the hot-button topic with the empathy and dramatic gravitas it deserves. Rose's work as a mental health professional and her lingering struggles with PTSD receive a significant portion of screen time here – a decision that allows the material to develop a meaningful dramatic core underneath the ample array of scary set pieces.

Finn's worthwhile messaging sometimes congeals too much to mainstream horror sensibilities, particularly in a third act where the script didactically spoon-feeds viewers the writer/director's thesis. Despite some inconsistencies, Finn's observational edge provides his narrative with an equally haunting and vital undercurrent. I also give star Sosie Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon, significant credit for carrying the narrative's weight on her shoulders. Her emotionally raw performance evolves throughout as Rose comes face to face with her untimely fate.

Smile impressively exceeds expectations at every turn. I am glad horror filmmakers like Finn continue to view the horror genre as a tool for meaningful meditations on the world around us.


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