So far the horror output of 2022 rivals that of any recent decade. In fact, the sheer number of films released in the around October this year challenged us to take them all in. That being said, Smile (2022), a film by Parker Finn, took a little while for us to get our hands on to review. Finn based Smile on a short-film from 2019 called Laura Hasn’t Slept. Using a supernatural backdrop, Parker Fin explores the topics of childhood trauma, catastrophic loss and regret. Smile serves as Parker Finn’s feature length directorial debut, and its solid work.
Dr. Rose Carter has little to smile about
The film begins with a dead women on a bed and a young girls standing outside the door, imagery that proves important later in the film. The action cuts to a psychological ward where a young doctor name Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) tries to make as much of a difference as she can with the limited resources she possesses. On this day she gets a new patient, a young woman named Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey) in the throes of a psychotic episode. She claims that an entity follows her, impersonating people she knows… each one carrying an diabolical smile.
Suddenly, Laura has a seizure, but by the time Ross can get help she’s standing, silently, with the very same evil smile that haunts her. Moments later she slashes her own throat and dies.
Immediately following the carnage, Ross descends down a rocky slope into madness, seeing apparitions of Laura smiling. Soon she sees others. Rapidly her mental state deteriorates as she fractures her relationships with her sister, her fiancé and her boss. Frantic, Ross digs for answers. Her search reveals that her witness of Laura’s suicide locked her into a curse that can only be passed on through her own suicide or the murder of another in front of a witness.
Ultimately Ross’ situation forces her to confront her own demons and the trauma of her mom’s suicide. It also forces her to contend with a deep dark secret that she has hidden for decades.
Effective use of old tropes and techniques (Spoilers)
As a disclaimer, I really enjoyed most of this film. I say that up front because the next few paragraphs present a rather critical assessment of the film. The fact that Parker Finn manages to create a horrifyingly enjoyable film using road worn tropes and over-used techniques may be a testament to his potential as a film maker.
Laura Hasn’t Slept briefly explores some of the ideas presented in the film, but in a more brutally honest way. Then entire short film consists of a woman named Laura and her psychologist. With the confines of its 10 minute runtime, Finn sticks wholly to the idea that Laura is a victim of her own mind. While Laura Hasn’t Slept contains many terrifying moments of the dread, it’s all just a build up to a giant and conclusive jump-scare
To expound on that 10 minute idea, Finn wraps a complicated narrative around the idea in order to create a heavy 115 minute runtime. Much like The Ring (2002) and It Follows (2015), Parker Finn leverages a curse that can be passed from individual to individual like a giant psychic chain-letter from hell. In this particular case, the curse passes from person to person through the witness of suicide. Explained, the curse drive a person to suicide, and the witness of that suicide then becomes inflicted with the curse. The total lifecycle of this madness completes in 4-5 days.
This curse does come with a loop hole, the afflicted can murder someone in front of a witness to pass it to that witness.
Overall, this thin veneer of a plot device helps make-use of time; however, it doesn’t really feel that profound or intellectually satisfying. In fact, it takes detracts from the real profound plotline that involves the severe emotionally traumatic experience of a young Ross Carter, and the inevitable pit of darkness it creates. The premise that a person of sound mind can descend into a pit of their own madness with no escape but suicide indices more fear than some supernatural funk that you can catch by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Furthermore, as the film ends, the murder-witness loophole dangles like the last un-loved leaf of Autumn. This option never really feels like a real one for Ross. It serves no real purpose other than to provide more filler. Considering the copious amount of filler, why the 115 runtime in the first place?
Much like Laura Hasn’t Slept the entire film serves as a vehicle for serving up jump-scares – hot and fresh. While many in the horror community claim to detest the jump-scare, I think we can all agree that since the days of House on Haunted Hill (1959), the jump-scare has proven as inextricable from horror as bad tattoos at The Gathering of Juggalos. At Malevolent Dark we discuss in detail the importance and prevalence of the jump-scare in James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) review.
The goal here is not to wave our fingers at jump-scares, or Parker Finn’s decision to use them, but rather to point out that Smile is a jump-scare affair and little more.
But WOW, The Jump Scares
The good news for horror fans is that Parker Finn executes his jump-scare bonanza extremely well. He creates his success by continually knocking the audience off-balance through hallucinations and general psychological disarray. Doing so, Finn builds tension across the board by ensuring that the viewer can never reliably determine reality from fantasy. By broadly coiling his spring, Finn creates dread behind every closed door and blind corner. When he releases the tension, his ungodly horrifying imagery carries the scare to new heights.
Speaking of imagery, Caitlin Stasey’s portrayal of Laura Weaver displays the most unsettling smile these eyes have ever seen. With Caitlin’s face plastered over Smile’s marketing materials, the producers clearly understood the horror that they had unleashed. They then bolster that imagery with horrifying depictions of Ross’s giant and disfigured mother ambling down the hall. It invokes recent terrors found in Zach Creggar’s Barbarian (2022).
Said and done, I spent the entirety of the film wallowing in dread and reaching for my throw to warm the chill that ran up my spine and down my extremities. Well done Parker Finn, well done.
Smiling all the way to the bank
In strong 2022 field of horror films, Smile manages to stake its ground. Produced on a modest budget of $17 million dollars, the film punches well above its weight in box-office returns in crowded field of Halloween horror release. Finn fails to break any new ground with the film, but his expertise in creating existential dread lifts his film above its generic plot and its simple scare tactics. Save this one for a night that you want to be scared, but don’t want to work too hard for it.
A horrific reason to Smile (2022) - Malevolent Dark
Director: Parker Finn
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33