Smile Review: A hard-hitting horror movie that puts a smile on your face

Polygon falls to the ground at the 2022 Fantastic Fest, reporting on new horror, sci-fi, and action movies making their way to theaters and streaming. This review was published in conjunction with the Fantastic Fest premiere.

Parker Finn’s first horror movie smiling Carefully calibrated to do different things for different viewers. For someone not well versed in horror, it’s a powerful and effective scare festival, filled with big, astounding fears, awful tension, and grinding.

But it works very differently for a savvy horror audience who can learn about the ways Finns repeat in other popular horror films, and predict from the start where the story will go. smiling He often winked at the audience, providing a silent sound You know what’s coming next, right? You can see how bad this can get, right? It’s easy to see at any point what Finn is doing with his characters, and where he’s targeting the story – and that seems entirely intentional. However, it is never easy to ignore the effect when the promised horrors arrive.

Work from a previous short film 2020 Laura didn’t sleepFinn’s script takes almost no time to determine who the protagonist is before her world begins to unravel. Therapist Rose Cotter (Susie Bacon) works in the hospital’s emergency psychiatric ward and is used to seeing and talking to people in crisis. Then she encounters a severely shaken patient who claims to be haunted by a kind of malevolent entity that no one else can see, created with a terrifying smile that torments her by appearing under the guise of the people she knows.

Woman smiling at baby shower party while little kids stand terrified at Smile

Photo: Paramount Pictures

The story feels like a paranoid delusion – and when Rose tries to talk to other people about the insidious, invisible, shape-shifting creature of the curse, she appears to be suffering from paranoid delusions as well. “I’m not crazyShe confesses to her sweet, sweet fiancé Trevor (Jesse T. Asher), her fragile older sister Holly (Gillian Zinser), and her former aristocratic handler Madeleine (Robin Wiggert, in a role that is light years away from hers). dead woodJane’s disaster. But Rose finds no way to sound convincing when she says it, especially to a cynical and unsympathetic scholar of the mentally ill.

smiling An often grotesque, even cliched horror movie, it’s filled with so many jump scares that the hilariously stacked frontier is hilarious. Finn uses loud, sudden sound cues and quick, brutal cuts to make viewers scream and bob over ordinary things like a Rose biting into a hamburger, or tearing their nails off. But no matter how excessively legitimate fears accumulate, they are startling and compelling. The editing and music are impressively tuned for maximum effect when the slow tension is resolved by an ugly surprise surprise. All this makes smiling An effective, if extraordinarily relentless, journey.

But Finn does the equivalent of a magician showing the audience how the trick is done, and then doing it so effectively that it still looks like magic anyway. his script styles smiling after, after the ring, with Rose having a vexing accident and finding out she’s on a deadly deadline, lures her reluctant and emotional former assistant, then conducts research into the phenomenon, with troubling results. But where are the other films that followed the ringIts beats felt derivative (including many of its clumsy sequels), smiling The familiarity of the story is used to set up anticipation. When Rose sees a possible solution to her problem, smiling It invites viewers to think about the logical end point of her discovery, wondering if she would make the same selfish choice that Naomi Watts’ character made in the ring – And if so, who will suffer as a result.

Suzy Bacon as Rose in Smile bites her finger while thinking of stalking her

Suzy Bacon as Rose smiling
Walter Thompson, MPA certified.

similarly, smilingThe setting extensively simulates one in FollowWith a threat that goes viral from person to person, he stubbornly advances toward his next victim, while wearing a variety of faces, turning every person in the hero’s life into a potential threat. But again, instead of feeling like you’re being imitated, smiling He uses familiarity to heighten a sense of danger, so that viewers don’t trust anyone they see on screen to be human – placing them neatly inside Rose’s increasingly fragmented mindset.

The human element in smiling Carefully calibrated as they scare the jump, in ways designed to keep the audience anxious when they’re not swaying. Finn fills the story with vulnerable potential victims: longtime horror fans know their anxiety when it turns out that Rose has a lovable cat, Holly has a beautiful 7-year-old boy, or Rose’s ex-help Joel (Kyle Galner) is sensitive and open-hearted and still loves her. . (Cal Penn also appears as Rose’s supervisor, in a role that appears specifically designed to provide a target for Mayhem.) And the way Rose suppresses childhood trauma, which she shares in part with Holly and is partly the cause of so much stress. Between them, he lays some particularly rich emotional ground. smiling It almost hurts to prepare for disaster: it’s bare-bones storytelling, with each new character or item designed to bolster a sense of dread about who is likely to die, and how bad it is.

The movie’s main theme adds to the sense of awe as well. From the moment a policeman disregards his responsibility to investigate a gruesome death by writing the victim with Faris “She looks to me crazy!” , obviously in the heart, smiling It revolves around the stigma associated with mental illness, urging the exclusion or demonization of people who come into contact with it.

Rose turns away from a burning building with tears in her eyes

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Finn finds fertile ground in the vast and perhaps unbridgeable gap between patients and even well-meaning onlookers. The audience’s sympathy is likely to be for Rose, who lives in a state of terror that she doesn’t know how to fight. But it’s also easy to see why other people find it annoying, trying to deal with a woman who is behaving erratically and even dangerously, blaming it all on some kind of incomprehensible fear demon.

A deeper version of this movie may go even more ambiguous about Rose’s situation, as she remains stuck with the question of whether she was actually suffering from a psychotic episode caused by legitimate stress, exhaustion, and trauma. Finn chose to avoid this path, explaining somewhat the entire time that something supernatural was at work. It’s a reasonable choice to make in a movie devoted to piling fear upon fear, in making the audience anticipate the worst that can happen, with genuine concern for the people who might suffer when it does. Still, steals smiling potential accuracy.

But there’s nothing wrong with a horror movie designed more to terrify the audience than to play with them. As a writer and director, Finn seems to know that people may go to horror movies for a variety of reasons, some more intellectual and some more emotional. Either way, he does an admirable job of making sure they all come out satisfied, and at least a little shaken.

smiling Opens in theaters September 30th.

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