The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - SMILE | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - SMILE

New to Netflix - SMILE
After witnessing a patient's suicide, a psychiatrist finds herself menaced by an evil presence.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Parker Finn

Starring: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan

smile poster

Jamie Lee Curtis has been heavily mocked for constantly prattling on about how the current Halloween trilogy is about "trauma." Unlike Halloween: H20, which Curtis sadly threw out with the bath water in an attempt to big up the latest iteration, the new Halloween movies do a hackneyed job of presenting its heroine's trauma. The same can't be said for Smile, the feature debut of director Parker Finn and an adaptation of his earlier short film. Finn doesn't need his leading lady to tell us all how his movie's about trauma, because it's organically embedded into the film.

Because mainstream horror movies tend to lean towards entertainment, few have broached the subject of suicide. The most notable example to the contrary is Mark Robson's Val Lewton produced chiller The Seventh Victim, in which a woman is egged on to taking her life by a Satanic cult. Though largely played for laughs, John Landis's An American Werewolf in London also features suicide as part of its setup, with the spirits of the titular werewolf's victims imploring him to take his own life to free them from limbo.

smile review

Smile has a similarly oppressive mood to Robson's film, and borrows the conceit of an over-the-top moment of violence suddenly being revealed to be a dream from Landis's movie. But it's Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon that it most heavily borrows from, right down to a climax that switches the film from atmospheric supernatural thriller to something closer to a monster movie.

Like Tourneur's film and its many subsequent imitators, Smile features a protagonist stricken with a curse and struggling to free themselves before it's too late. In this case the curse befalls Rose (Sosie Bacon), a hospital psychiatrist who witnessed her mother's suicide as a young girl. Now as an adult, Rose witnesses another suicide, this time of a young woman who claims she is being haunted by an evil presence that takes the form of people she knows. Smashing a vase, the woman takes a shard and slits her throat, all while wearing a beaming smile.

smile review

As if that wasn't enough for Rose to deal with, in the days following the incident she begins to experience nightmarish hallucinations like those described by the suicide victim. After a particularly demented episode at her nephew's birthday party (a sequence mounted deliciously by Finn to mine our apprehension at what might be about to go down), Rose loses the trust of her loved ones who write her off as crazy. Turning to her ex-boyfriend, police detective Joel (Kyle Gallner, once a staple of 2000s horror movies), Rose investigates her condition and finds she's part of a chain, and that unless she finds a way of breaking said chain, her days are numbered.

What follows is a procedural horror in the vein of The Ring, with our heroine attempting to save themselves against increasingly supernaturally weighted odds. There's a touch of Final Destination in the sense of impending doom, and from that franchise it borrows a trip to a prison to visit someone who managed to survive a previous grapple with this scenario.

smile review

But despite its many influences, Smile is largely its own creation and may herald a new horror franchise. What makes it stand out from most mainstream American horror movies is its willingness to take us down some very dark paths. It doesn't shy away from the fact that its villain is essentially suicide, but to my sensibilities at least, it never feels distasteful. Bacon is thoroughly convincing in the role of someone losing their mind ironically because those around her mistakenly believe she's losing touch with sanity. The film's most tragic element is how aside from the still smitten Joel, Rose's "loved ones" are more concerned with the negative effects her instability might have on their own lives than on her own actual well-being. Viewers with their own mental health issues may well feel recognised rather than exploited.

It's when Finn feels the need to deliver a visual representation of his film's conceptual antagonist that things get a little silly. The smiling faces make for a creepy image, but he takes things into Evil Dead territory in a climax that plays like it's been tacked onto the wrong movie. After almost two hours of effective broodiness, Finn leaves us looking at something that frankly, looks ridiculous, though he does make up for this by sending us out on a downer with a final shot more reflective of the film's unrelenting grimness.

 is on Netflix UK/ROI now.