Smile is an often terrifying exploration of anxiety and trauma with a supernatural twist

Smile Review


Smile will hit theaters on Sept. 30, 2022.

“Smile though your heart is aching; smile even though it's breaking.” Those well-meaning words of comfort couldn’t sound more sinister once you’ve seen Smile, a supernatural psychological horror entry that, while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, still manages to stoke tension every time anyone so much as smirks.
This ruthlessly effective, anxiety-inducing nightmare that tells the horrifying story of Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist who finds her whole world turned upside down as she begins to unravel beneath the stigma of mental health.Her newest patient is a young girl who witnessed the suicide of her college professor, and when their first session takes a bizarre, traumatic turn, it looks as though Cotter is now seeing the very hallucinations that her patient reported – a sinister smiling face that appears throughout their daily lives and haunts them with unsettling visions.
If the premise sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been done many, many times before. It’s easy to draw comparisons to It Follows, as well as The Ring and The Grudge. But where these movies seem to have inspired Smile, director Parker Finn uses our knowledge of their well-worn tropes to make something a little different.That’s not to say that Smile is a wholly original film – it isn’t. But it does veer off in an interesting new direction.
Finn establishes his creepy, off-kilter view of the world almost instantly with twisting camerawork that sets a disorienting tone. Sure, it’s not the most subtle of metaphors – at times, Cotter’s world is turned literally upside down with almost stomach-churning inverted landscape shots. But this neat trick that’s seemingly borrowed from the likes of Hereditary instantly puts us on edge and makes us much more empathetic to Cotter’s unraveling mental state as a result.
Equally, the jump scares start off as a simple means of keeping us on our toes, but slowly build toward something greater. They soon come thick and fast, with plenty of feigns and fake-outs to throw us off. And that’s when you begin to realize that the almost laughable frequency of these moments is doing something else entirely. It’s setting the unnerving stage with a creeping paranoia that keeps us wondering just what’s around every corner.
The scares themselves are quite tame by comparison, but that doesn’t matter.The whole point is to keep us tense throughout the entire film as you second-guess where the next jump scare is coming from… and the really fun part is that you’ll rarely get it right.
Finn absolutely nails the creeping dread of a mental health professional who knows she won’t be taken seriously.
These interesting little touches make Smile much more than a cheap scare. Instead, it revels in its ability to make you squirm. The very bloody and visceral nature of the deaths is offset by the weird, ethereal emptiness of its victims’ faces. Finn absolutely nails the creeping dread of a mental health professional who knows she won’t be taken seriously and explores the stigma of depression and anxiety as Cotter fights an uphill battle with those around her.
Sosie Bacon is an absolute thrill to watch as the ever-deteriorating Dr. Cotter, with an incredible performance that gets to the heart of mental health anxiety while grounding the sheer hysterics of being pursued by a supernatural entity. Jessie T. Usher, meanwhile, is all-too-believable as Trevor, Rose’s new boyfriend who thinks she’s going crazy. A brief appearance from Rob Morgan is brilliantly paced as he transforms from rational to utterly terrified in the blink of an eye.
Best Horror Movies So Far In 2022<b>X</b>
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Ti West’s X is as glorious and malevolent a return to horror features that anyone could ask for from the indie filmmaker turned prolific television director. IGN’s official review gave X an 8 out of 10, which I come in a little higher on myself. West’s incorporation of countless influences from Giallo to 70s sleazeploitation makes for an artfully chaotic brand of contemporary slasher. It’s handily one of A24’s better horror films, filled with gratuitous but oh-so-slick gore and all the sweltery southern terrorization in films like The Town That Dreaded Sundown or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
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Performances across the board help make X so memorable. It’s Jenna Ortega’s year in horror without any question, but she’s only one piece to X’s blood-splattered puzzle. Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Mia Goth, and more play above-and-beyond parts as pornographers trying to elevate their medium. West has loads of fun comparing horror to pornography in terms of public perception, while characters are granted agency beyond easy stereotypes. What’s not to like about a sex-positive slasher that swings a big ego and delivers as promised?<b>The Black Phone</b>
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Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill strike horror gold again with The Black Phone. IGN’s official review dials in a 9 out of 10, as Amelia concludes, “The Black Phone mixes the supernatural with relatable horrors in ways that will leave you both terrified and hopeful.” It’s that hopefulness that I wasn’t expecting because Ethan Hawke’s child kidnapper “The Grabber” sure is a nasty son-of-a-gun. Child actors Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw play their parts so tremendously well, it's impossible not to leave thinking the kids will be alright.
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Direction goes a long way for The Black Phone because Derrickson shows a confident and transformative command of The Grabber’s basement. It feels massive when Thames’ victim searches around for escape clues and claustrophobic when The Grabber comes downstairs to enhance sensations of chilly isolation. Add in a few paranormal scares and killer mask designs by Tom Savini, and you’ve got a definitive crowd-pleasing horror film worth acclaim. Not like that’s anything new for the team behind Sinister.<b>Nope</b>
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Jordan Peele’s no stranger to “Best of” horror lists between Get Out and Us — and Nope is no different. It’s Peele having a blast with Twilight Zone influences on a Speilbergian sci-fi scale. We don’t toss around the term “Event Horror” anymore (used to describe blockbuster horror flicks that devour the screen) but Peele has become a champion for such spectacle filmmaking now for a third time with Nope. Audiences will find an immensely entertaining UFO mystery with laughs and chills — but that’s just on the surface.
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Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea, and Steven Yeun explore the nasty histories of minorities being tossed aside and forgotten by Hollywood. Our ugly relationship with spectacles is put on display while Peele still manages to keep us in awe of the overarching alien threat. Peele operates outside the more overt social commentaries of Get Out and Us, without ditching a directorial voice that’s arguably the most unique in contemporary horror cinema. In Peele we trust, and there’s a reason IGN gave the film a 9 out of 10 in our official review.<b>Scream</b>
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Radio Silence’s Scream sequel does right by franchise creators Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. It’s a requel that plays into all the tropes and decades-later revamps that have tried tirelessly to revive franchises gasping for air. IGN’s Amelia Emberwing gave the film a 9 out of 10, saying, “All of the performances are pitch-perfect, the kills are gnarly, and no version of toxic fandom is left unmocked.” I agree with those words, since the film so lovingly pays homage to multiple threads from Williamson’s original script with all the sharp genre commentary Craven loved to exploit.
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The year of “Jenna Ortega: Our Scream Queen” continues since she stars alongside Melissa Barrera as slasher surviving sisters, meeting franchise favorites like Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox. There’s no chip on the shoulders of Radio Silence as they direct through another massacre that’s the most violent and relentless to date, yet comedy thrives as Jasmin Savoy Brown becomes the Meeks we deserve. Scream (2022) channels Craven, guts “Horror Twitter” with scathing commentary against gatekeepers, and feels comfortably at home in the franchise. That’s all Scream fans can ask for, shake ups and all.<b>The Innocents</b>
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In my IGN review for The Innocents, I conclude, “The Innocents is a slow-burner that stars a majority small-fry cast and yet is far more poised and impactful than those descriptions suggest.” What’s so stunning about this dark Norwegian take on children with superpowers is how mature the film treats its subjects. There’s never a desire to water-down dire consequences because wee younglings are in charge. If anything, the screenplay amplifies concepts around children not understanding the harm they can cause and how quickly some are forced to grow up.
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It’s a playground metaphor for unchecked aggression and the corruption of unlimited powers. Kids start levitating rocks and realizing they’re far more special than their parents ever imagined — both a blessing and a curse. Horror elements interfere when one child uses his abilities in hurtful ways, as the other powered children wonder how to stop his rein of terror. It’s an impactful film about choices and how quickly humans succumb to their worst impulses, made immensely more impactful given the age of all players involved.<b>Watcher</b>
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I liked Watcher a tad more than IGN’s Amelia Emberwing, whose 7 out of 10 review says, “The story will linger too long for some, but anyone willing to stick with it is in for a treat.” Chloe Okuno’s feature debut needs nothing more than a woman abroad and the man whose eyes are always locked on said woman’s figure. It’s highlighting horrors of the outside world, as society repeatedly tells women they’re perfectly safe and to stop overreacting, right before another innocent life is taken by some dude who stalked another innocent soul home late one night.
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Maika Monroe stars as the American wife of a businessman who relocates to Bucharest, Romania. Even without Burn Gorman’s insidious neighbor who ends up being the “Watcher,” Okuno does well to accentuate the loneliness of a partner doing right by their spouse through sacrifice and discomfort. Then the social commentary and voyeuristic unrest take over as both Maika and Burn do their best on the respective sides of an invasive, grossly vulnerable stalker scenario that uses reality as the utmost impetus for horror cinema. Why create imaginary monsters when our lives are filled with real ones?
On the surface, Smile’s premise is a simple one, but there’s a lot more weight to it than initially meets the eye. Sure, it only scratches the surface when it comes to exploring complex issues of mental health stigma. But Bacon wears the weariness of a well-meaning therapist in those early scenes… and as her own sanity begins to unravel, we experience the true horror of a woman who knows what all this means. An unnerving soundtrack from Cristobal Tapia de Veer helps keep us on the edge of our seats with unexpected turns that heighten our anxiety to almost unbearable levels.
Smile may borrow heavily from other horror films, but it certainly brings something unique to the table, and I’m not just talking about that creepy smile. Finn knows the expected horror tropes and uses them against us, building a crippling unease that heightens what would be fairly unambitious jump scares with skin-crawling efficiency. His interesting use of light and sound ratchets up tension throughout, while jump scares combined with smash cuts will leave you wondering what exactly just happened… in a good way. Throw in an impeccable central performance from Bacon and Smile gives us the creepy, horrifying tale of a woman coming undone in the face of supernatural horror.
And remember – Smile. What’s the use of crying?
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Ryan Leston

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