“Smile” only finds horror in its dull story

Though it has a promising concept, “Smile” falls flat with cheap scares and awkward writing.

“Smile” begins when a therapist named Rose, played by Sosie Bacon, meets a patient who claims she is being plagued by an unnerving entity that appears as people smiling and causes bad things to happen. After the patient shockingly kills herself while smiling in the session, Rose begins to have the same experiences. When this entity starts to ruin Rose’s life and everyone around her believes her to be crazy, she attempts to get rid of it and in the process, face her own trauma. 

The film possesses a strong concept. The imagery of people smiling is ominously disturbing, but it is underutilized and more perplexing than anything else. The scene with Rose’s patient smiling caused the audience to laugh, and as time went on, it added nothing to the plot. It is visually well-made, using fun upside-down camera angles and a moody color palette, but the script needed several rewrites, as the dialogue throughout is painful, exposition-heavy, and can’t seem to stick to one consistent tone. The protagonist is slow to unravel clues that the audience has already pieced together from scenes she has been a part of, and the supporting characters don’t add anything to the story. Rose is shown traumatized after the incident with her patient, while the character of her sister obliviously discusses her son’s birthday and dismisses Rose’s concerns. This creates a self-centered mother stereotype, resulting in an exaggerated character that could have been scrapped altogether. Through moments like this, its perspective on mental illnesses is uninformed and comes up shallow, boiling down Rose’s motivations to help others to misguided guilt.

Everything ends up comedic rather than scary; Moments like a child shuddering in fear result in hilarity. For this reason, it’s possible this film could end up as a cult classic of the “so bad it’s good” variety although it lacks tension, and the ample jumpscares that rely heavily on musical cues become tiresome. 

By the end, the audience can anticipate the next jumpscare based on the musical cues. 

The cues feel as if the score is trying to tell the audience when they should feel scared, or are simply adding a loud noise to force a scare. To create a jumpscare, a scene transitioned by cutting to a car honking, resulting in a fake-out fright. For a horror movie, there is little to no horror involved, with more bland and quiet moments rather than scary ones. It would have benefitted from raising the stakes by being more creative and committed to parts that were meant to be scary, and executed more effective character development. 

This film is just a combination of other horror movies that came before it. It seems to follow in the footsteps of “The Ring” (2002), “It Follows” (2014) and “The Babadook” (2014) but doesn’t provide a new take on any of those ideas and themes. The only original element is the visual of the smiling, but it didn’t make the experience much more enjoyable. 

The film was overall predictable. The message behind the story is weak and unoriginal, resulting in a heavy-handed metaphor and a mediocre story that does little to make up for the lack of horror. The only positive quality comes at the end with one unique sequence. However, by that point, the audience was restless. Ultimately, the conclusion as a whole was unoriginal, frustrating, and unsatisfying. 

2 / 5 Stars

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