There’s something inherently scary about dealing with mental health. One wrong thought or any residual feeling of self-doubt could unlock sentiments so terrible and concerning, that it may have one questioning their sanity. That’s the underlying premise of SMILE, Parker Finn’s feature-length debut, which is based on his short Laura Hasn’t Slept. The movie provides a theater experience so disturbing and twisted as it relishes in a storyline centered around suicide. And though it may borrow from the likes of other horror films, Smile exceeds at selling the gruesome aspect of suicidal thoughts (and actions) through numerous, effective jump scares and Finn’s directional choices.
The story follows Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist who works at a psychiatric ward in New Jersey. Rose has a variety of patients who suffer from a range of issues related to their mental health, but none have been as troubling as her latest, Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey), the Ph.D. student who witnessed her professor take his own life. With the trauma of it lingering in the back of her mind, Laura claims that an evil entity follows her around, pretending to be other people smiling at her. During Laura’s visit with Dr. Cotter, she’s overcome with emotion and breaks down while convulsing on the floor. Suddenly, she takes her own life in front of Rose and smiles at her while doing so.
Effective jump scares
Left to deal with the distress from her patient ending her life in front of her, Rose begins to question her own sanity. Additionally, she begins to encounter frightening moments of her own—similar to what Laura described prior to her demise. That’s when director Parker Finn’s feature kicks into high gear and soars beyond expectations to explore an intense and suffocating mental health experience that is bound to shock and terrorize viewers from beginning to end. Thanks to successful scene compositions and a piercing score that is bound to unnerve viewers, Smile captivates and startles, providing intentional impact at every turning corner.
Finn wrote a simple and derivative script and directed the hell out it with Smile. There’s not much complication within the story, and it’s fairly easy to follow. But it solidifies itself as a great entry of 2022’s horror movies because of its dedication to fully embrace great tropes within the genre. Through an abundance of jump scares and intentional camera angles/movements, Finn knew exactly how to play his cards when he converts a slow-moving scene into a high-octane one. The film is overloaded with these moments, but I’d lying if I didn’t admit that I jumped every time. So, if you’re looking for a daunting experience to keep you up all night, Smile may be the right film for the job.
Smile has great performances
The jump scares and direction aren’t the only reasons to see Finn’s feature-length debut in theaters. In Smile, he takes an alternative approach to his predecessors by not giving his evil entity a backstory. In hindsight, this was a great decision because that puts the focus on Rose’s internal issues with her own mental health and how she must come to terms with the root cause of them. As a result of this framework, it’s easy to develop empathy for her character, but it also provides a fully engaging watching experience, forcing viewers to question her ability to discern reality from her own breakdown. Above all, it’s reliably horrifying yet relatable, which is the core source of its horror as it can get under your skin.
Simply put, Smile is the kind of horror film that combines the best of elements used from the past and present. At the core of these features are some great performances that keep the script flowing. Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter stands out with a leading lady performance that demands empathy. She truly knows how to act with every inch of her body, fully immersing in her character’s anxieties, triggers, and nightmares. I cannot wait to see what she does next. Caitlin Stasey also commits to her unnerving and effective performance, which provides the majority of the film’s scares. She is deliberate and exceeds expectations even with few lines to deliver.
Paramount Pictures has got a horror gem with Smile. There are great performances throughout, plenty of effective jump scares, and some fantastic directorial choices that will keep you up at night. Catch it in theaters with a packed theater, and you won’t be disappointed.
Watch the trailer for Parker Finn’s Smile, in theaters now!
One thought on “Smile Review | Finn Delivers a Jump-Scare Heavy Horror Flick”
What a great review! Very well said! Sounds scary even before I saw the trailer! Love it!