July 13, 2024

The film “Smile” is the newest addition to the recent psychological horror genre that has flooded cinemas. In addition to the usual gore, terrifying villains and freaky atmosphere found in horror flicks, the film explores something more terrifying: trauma. With plenty of jump scares and continuous climbing tension, “Smile” is worth a trip to the local theater.

Parker Finn introduces a familiar concept to horror fans in his directorial debut. The idea of a supernatural entity haunting a group of characters is not new, but Finn does well in putting a spin on the lore behind the protagonist Dr. Rose Cotter, played by Sophie Bacon.

A supernatural being pursues Cotter after witnessing a patient’s bizarre suicide, which sets off a harrowing journey in which Cotter must figure out how to stop this before it makes her the next victim, all the while trying to convince friends and family that she is not crazy. In a cast of somewhat familiar faces, Bacon’s stellar performance immersed me in her terror-filled world. I do not remember watching a scene without her, which was a good decision, as one without her would detract from the story. Bacon’s on-screen efforts hold the plot in place at points where it has a lull in the action and suspense.

Regarding traditional horror elements, prepare for the numerous jump scares strategically placed throughout the film. Finn does well in making the jump scares frightening, but some felt unnecessary, even to the point of overkill.

The tension builds from the constant jump scares, but towards act three, the story progresses to a certain point where it can stand on its own without the antagonist leaping onto the screen.

Putting Bacon’s performance, jump scares and supernatural entities aside, trauma carves out a large slice of the plot. In a genre that treats trauma as an abstract concept with kiddie-pool depth, “Smile” takes it a step further and expands on what makes Dr. Cotter’s trauma relevant and exciting to the story.

The audience sees her trauma, how she goes through it and the strained relationships she has with those around her because of it. I appreciated how this theme of trauma became more important as the plot went along.

The visuals in this film were vividly memorable with grizzly scenes and twisted imagery. They truly started to take off during the story’s midpoint. There were many pictures and parts of the movie I did not expect to see, which is precisely what made them horrifying. The deep visuals also aided in establishing a world of uncertainty, where I was not sure if what Dr. Cotter experienced was real or not. The lines between imagination and reality became increasingly blurred, creating a compelling examination of the protagonist’s mental state.

However, I will say that the movie’s low budget of $17 million becomes glaringly apparent in the computer-generated imagery toward the film’s end.

Need the recommendation to see “Smile?” Here it is. Go and see it and I assure you that you will take something away from the film. The movie is scary, memorable and has an excellent performance by the lead character. There are some critiques here and there, but they do not derail the plot, and the movie still chugs along.

4 out of 5 stars.

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