Adapted from the short film Laura Hasn’t Slept, Smile tells the story of Rose Cutter (Sosie Bacon) – a doctor who is experiencing strange, horrifying occurrences after a traumatic incident she had with a patient who killed herself. The patient had displayed clear signs of trauma and mentioned witnessing a suicide and seeing the victim smiling before their passing. The incident triggers moments from Rose’s past to come into fruition and, to ensure her survival, she must confront it before the curse takes advantage of this with fatal consequences.
Investigative, paranormal horror thrillers were the bread and butter of the horror genre once upon a time. We had numerous sterling examples that stood out and are still well regarded to this day – Ringu and It Follows to name a few. All that those types of films really need is a compelling hook. Ringu had a cursed videotape that would kill those who watch it in seven days. It Follows had a curse that would kill those who have sexual relations with someone afflicted with it.
In the case of writer/director Parker Finn’s feature-length directorial debut Smile, we have a string of suicides that are triggered by a malevolent force – the calling card of which is a menacing smile worn by its victims. While Smile may not win any awards for originality, it succeeds handily thanks to Finn’s sharp directorial eye, an effective mean streak in its storytelling, a stellar lead performance from Sosie Bacon and well-timed scares.
The film makes no swipes with its well-trodden plot (the lead character goes from victim to amateur sleuth), storytelling tropes (the unreliable husband played laughably well by Jessie T. Usher) and the nature of the scares (the use of a cat is particularly funny). However, Finn never goes for the self-referential route in making fun of its storytelling for comic relief. He goes for a sense of heightened hopelessness – aided by peculiar staging and blocking alongside beautifully dreary cinematography by Charlie Sarroff – that thankfully keeps the audience on the edge of their seats but never makes it an emotional slog.
It is thanks to the mean streak in the storytelling that makes the scares powerful in both eliciting fear and mirth. Major credit has to be awarded to Sosie Bacon, who makes it work as well as it should. She is fantastic as Dr. Rose Cutter, who has to be believably calm and controlled on the outside and distraught on the inside, and she goes through the motions very well. The supporting cast, including Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, fellow Aussie Caitlin Stasey (who played Laura in the short film) and others, make their mark capably but Bacon is the star of the show.
Throw in some horrifically memorable imagery involving body horror and a satisfying ending that never cops out and you have Smile; an extremely entertaining horror flick that unapologetically makes no bones about its derivative nature and delivers exactly what it promises on the tin.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Smile is showing in cinemas now, courtesy of Paramount Pictures.