“Smile” is a little spooky horror film which has some nasty fun with its heroine’s very unfortunate supernatural situation. Although it is reminiscent of many other horror films ranging from “Ring” (1998) to “It Follows” (2015), the movie did its job fairly well as effectively unsettling us more than once along its story, and it is also supported well by the strong acting by its talented lead actress.
Sosie Bacon, who is the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, plays Dr. Rose Carter, a young psychiatrist who has been devoting herself a little too much to her work. Tirelessly working at the psychiatry department of a big local hospital, she often cares too much about her emergency patients’ welfare and health, and that sometimes leads to occasional conflicts between her and her direct supervisor, who is sincerely concerned about how selflessly she has overworked since she came there.
Not long after handling a very problematic patient, Rose is assigned to an equally troubled young woman named Laura Weaver (Caitlin Stasey), who has just been sent to Rose’s ward due to her extremely hysterical status. During Rose’s private interview with her, Laura frantically confides to her that something unknown has been tormenting and stalking her for years, but, just like others, Rose does not believe that much while trying to be reasonable with Laura.
In the end, something terrible happens right in front of Rose’s eyes as Laura already warned her. After suddenly going through some weird physical convulsion, Laura comes to commit a gruesome suicide with a very disturbing smile on her face, and that certainly shocks and devastates Rose a lot. When two detectives, one of whom later turns out to be her ex-boyfriend, come later, there is really nothing she can reveal to them, and her mind remains shaken by the incident even when she returns to her residence where she lives with her fiancé.
Anyway, Rose tries to go on with her life and work as usual, but, of course, she soon comes to sense that something is going wrong around her. Just like Laura told her right before her suicide, she feels like being watched by someone from somewhere, and a series of odd things happen around her. For example, somebody seems to break into her residence at one night, but the police do not find anything suspicious inside and outside the residence, and things become more unnerving as Rose often sees the hallucination of Laura with that hideous smile on her face.
Around that point where her life and career begin to crumble because of this eerily inexplicable circumstance, Rose naturally become convinced that what Laura told her was indeed true, but, of course, nobody around her believes what she desperately tries to tell. While her relationship with her fiancé becomes more strained than before, her older sister becomes quite angry due to one horrific incident between them, and her psychiatrist tries to be more reasonable with her just like Rose did with Laura.
As Rose becomes more vulnerable and unnerved as days go by, the screenplay by director/writer Parker Finn, which is based on his 2020 short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept”, begins to show more of an old trauma from which she has been trying to look away for many years. Haunted by the dark memories of her mentally disturbed mother who happened to die when she was very young, Rose wonders whether she is actually going crazy, but whatever is menacing her with that scary smile feels quite real nonetheless, and she eventually attempts to get any clue to what is really tormenting her.
What she gradually comes to discover thanks to some reluctant unofficial help from her ex-boyfriend is not so pleasant to say the least. It seems that there is a way to escape from her ongoing plight, but that requires a big cost from her, and she becomes all the more conflicted than before – until she comes to think of another possible option later in the story.
If you are a seasoned moviegoer like me, you can easily see where the story is heading, but Finn and his crew members do as much as they can for holding our attention before the movie eventually arrive at its inevitable finale. While cinematographer Charlie Sarroff provides a number of unsettling shots shrouded in unnerving tension beneath the surface, the cacophonic score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer brings extra nervousness to that as constantly making us uneasy from the beginning to the end.
Above all, the movie depends a lot on Bacon’s talent and presence. While Rose is another usual horror movie heroine in grim danger, Bacon’s intense performance gives flesh and blood to her archetype role, and that is the main reason why we come to fear more for her character along the story. In case of several substantial supporting performers, Kyle Gallner and Caitlin Stasey are well-cast in their respective roles, and Rob Morgan is dependable as usual even though he only appears in a single scene later in the film.
In conclusion, “Smile” may not surprise you much if you are familiar with its many other senior horror films, but it is a competent genre piece on the whole, and I was not so surprised as occasionally observing how several audiences around me actively responded to its several key moments at last night. Sure, it does not break any new ground in its genre field, but it did its homework enough to scare us, so I will not grumble for now.