Sosie Bacon - Dr. Rose Cotter
Kyle Gallner - Joel
Caitlin Stasey - Laura Weaver
Jessie T. Usher - Trevor
Rob Morgan - Robert Talley
Kal Penn - Dr. Morgan Desai
Robin Weigert - Dr. Madeline Northcott
Judy Reyes - Victoria Munoz
Gillian Zinzer - Holly
Running Time: 115 Minutes
After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.
Paramount’s SMILE could have been a really silly movie due to its gimmick of smiling demonic faces that reminded me of 2018’s TRUTH OR DARE - a film I never watched but heard so many terrible things about it. But who would have guessed that this horror movie actually has a lot of depth going for it, making me sympathetic towards several of the characters. While the film does focus on these smiling beings, the social commentary on mental health and its perception within the medical community and outside of it hit home for me.
As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, as well as having several friends and family take their own lives due to mental illness, SMILE uses a cheesy gimmick to tell a serious story on how this “smile curse” reveals the negative opinions of those dealing with mental issues. Either they’re turned a blind eye by medical professionals who are desensitized, or looked down upon by members of society who don’t understand why anyone would want to help a so-called “crazy” person. If this curse affects someone, they start hallucinating and start losing their minds out of fear and frustration that no one will believe them, taking their life in front of someone after 7 days to pass on the curse to them. And the reason why this supernatural force has continued for so long is because a lot of people don’t want to deal with mentally ill people, looking at them as some kind of burden.
Thankfully we have a character we can root for in Dr. Rose Cotter, a professional who cares for her patients and works long hours to make sure her patients don’t share the same fate as her mother, who overdosed on pills in front of her when she was a young girl. Her guilt over her mother’s passing and the negative stigma on mental illness drives her, especially when she’s cursed and must find a way to make people understand what she’s going through so she can stop her affliction. Her life begins to fall apart once she’s cursed. Her psychiatrist thinks she may be harmful to herself. Her fiance pulls away from her. A tragedy at her nephew’s birthday party causes strife between her and her sister, who lives with denial over the past. Her colleagues are concerned for her well being. Her life becomes a mess, which is a cool way of explaining how many with mental illness must go through in their lives if left untreated due to misunderstandings or ignorance from those around them.
Besides the social commentary, SMILE’s story is pretty typical for this kind of movie. If you’ve seen other “cursed” movies like THE RING or THE GRUDGE, you’ll be able to follow every single beat in the narrative, right to its predictable conclusion. Thank goodness for a strong social commentary and decently-written characters because there are no real twists or surprises in the story. It’s told well and it’s done well, but there’s nothing narrative wise that stands out from the rest of the pack.
Parker Finn’s direction is good. He handles all the tropes well and brings a bit of style and flair to certain shots and transitions. I love how he lingers on the smiling beings, never really cutting away from them to create this unsettling feeling. The violent moments are shot really well and make an impact when they occur. I do think Finn relied too much on jump scares, as SMILE has one like every 5 to 10 minutes. None of them got me, but if they had, I would have probably been immune by the halfway point of the film. But that’s the horror genre for you and I’m sure they worked on some folks.
The cast is solid. Sosie Bacon [daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick] is really great as Dr. Rose Cotton. She really carries and drives this film to its success, portraying a likable and compassionate doctor who quickly becomes rattled and erratic once she’s cursed. I definitely want to see more of her because she’s a star. It’s always good to see Kyle Gallner in horror movies [we saw him earlier this year in SCREAM (2022)] and he does well as cop Joel, who helps Rose figure out what’s going on. Whatever the quality of the film, Gallner is always reliable in any role he’s in. Jessie T. Usher does fine as Rose’s fiance, while Gillian Zinzer is nice as Holly, playing a counter perspective against Bacon’s Rose. Always nice to see Kal Penn as well. SMILE has a really good cast who take the story seriously and help give it the depth it needs.
THE FINAL HOWL
Despite a gimmick that could have gone really badly [looking at you, 2018’s TRUTH OR DARE], SMILE surprises by using its smiling gimmick as an understandable way to depict mental illness within a world that chooses to be ignorant or desensitized by the topic. The film’s social commentary on the perception of mental illness is a strong one, as it allows the audience to sympathize with certain characters and gives the movie a depth you wouldn’t expect from a horror movie like this. It helps when the narrative is carried by strong, willing actors - in particular Sosie Bacon, who hits every emotional beat necessary to get the message across in a believable way despite the supernatural element attached to the film.
That being said, SMILE is a film dealing with a curse - meaning if you’ve watched THE RING, THE GRUDGE, or any other similar movie, you’ll predict every beat of the story until it’s expected conclusion. The film also relies too much on jump scares, which become less effective as the film nears the end. However, director Parker Finn has a grasp on what type of movie he’s making, especially when it comes to focusing on the smiling gimmick, which makes the film a bit unsettling as the camera loves to linger on anyone giving an evil smile to the camera.
SMILE doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s still a fun time and definitely worth a look during the Halloween season and even after it’s over. 2022 continues to be good to us horror fans.
(7 out of 10)