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Quick Review: Smile
Once You See It, It's Too Late
The following is my review for the film Smile. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I grade films when I review them.
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.
In a day and age when commentary and examinations of deeper social issues have become a subgenre of its own in horror, one wonders how accessible such films can be and how attractive they may be for major studios.
Enter Smile, a horror flick from a major studio in Paramount Pictures that touches on themes of trauma and mental illness with a story that is reminiscent of It Follows. This time instead of sex being the vector, its gruesome and traumatic suicides.
This is a movie about supernatural horror, this isn’t a slasher flick or a creature feature. It embraces the idea of a mysterious demonic force out there feeding on trauma much in the way that a Pennywise (It, It: Chapter Two) feeds on fear. And thankfully the movie actually touches a bit on the lore its building around this being without giving TOO much away either (Which I suspect is to allow even more lore building if sequels are in the cards). This is as much a mystery as it is a psychological thriller; and unwrapping that mystery as our heroine fights to keep her sanity was one of the film’s biggest strengths in keeping my attention.
Unlike too many other horror films, the jump scares in this one don’t feel cheap at all. It earns the jumps it gets from the audience, and it caught me off guard more than a few times. At my screening a woman sitting behind me was audibly frightened. There are real moments of cringe that will make even the most seasoned horror movie fan look away and heartbreaking moments that will have you feeling for our protagonist. And its slow burn pacing allows us to be introduced to central players in the story without any real exposition to sit through. It shows and doesn’t have to tell.
However for all of its strengths this remains one of those horror movies with something to say that won’t be accessible to everyone. For one the direction at times, especially in some certain ways scenes are shot, can be a bit pretentious. Reminiscent of a film school student is trying so many different types of shots to present their movie that they get in their own way at times. So many upside down and close up shots that felt forced. The film’s depiction of mental illness might trigger some who have gone through similar trauma or have seen others go through the same mental battles as well. And the movie’s slow burn pace does make it a bit overlong for my taste.
But the movie’s biggest sin is undoubtedly a pretty sloppy third act. I almost felt like the writer(s) were able to set up so much so well in the first two acts - and then suddenly had nothing they could come up with to wrap it up, so they went a more predictable route with an ending that won’t be for everyone and might come off as trying to be more clever for its own good.
I think this is the kind of movie a good chunk of horror fans will come to appreciate. I certainly liked it for the most part even though its promise loses points towards the end. But I’m not sure this is up there with other horror films from the year so far either. If you' consider yourself a big fan of horror, especially those that delve into the mental stability of their central characters, this one might be one supernatural flick you’ll leave the theatre smiling about.