Spoiler-free review of Smile, which opens in theaters on September 30.
Every year there seems to be a contest for the title of “horror movie of the year” among critics. Sometimes the throne is given unanimously to a single candidate, while others it is an “honor” that is more useful as a claim than as a real assessment, and can be attributed to multiple films. This year 2022, at least until the arrival of Smile, was framed in the second case; After all, we’ve had quite famous exponents such as Black Phone, Nop (Jordan Peele’s latest work), Men or X. Although they are films that have received their share of attention, none of them is that mainstream scary movie , easy to recommend to any fan of the genre.
With an original premise, very powerful images and a brilliant marketing campaign, the first reactions to Smile seemed to predict the advent of the queen of the genre in 2022. Unfortunately, at least in my case, I have not experienced it that way. Smile is overcome by its own premiseembarking on a well-known journey much more interested in causing an easy scare than in exploiting all its wasted potential.
An ode to jumpscare
The protagonist of this story is Dr. Rose Cutter (Sosie Bacon), who works as a therapist in an institution that attends to psychiatric emergencies. One day at work, Rose attends to a patient who, without her being able to do anything to prevent it, commits suicide before her horrified gaze. Beyond the traumatic event, there is something that Rose cannot get out of her head: the gloomy smile that the young woman outlined while she took her own life. From that moment on, she Rose will begin to experience disturbing events that will confront her with her past.
Although both its advertising campaign and its trailer have focused all the interest and weight of the plot on smiles, this resource ends up being a painfully wasted macguffin. At no time is it possible to explore the relationship of these smiles with all the events that surround the protagonist; there are few moments in which the film gives us interactions with this resource, and none of them is particularly brilliant. The film strives to nullify any type of more complex reading with a script that reveals her cards too soon and a plot that is equally determined to travel places that are too common in the genre. Beyond an obvious parallelism between the situation experienced by the protagonist and how someone’s life changes when the suspicion of suffering from a disorder of this type is waved, it is not something that is explored despite focusing much of its setting on this area. .
He offers plenty of allegories and similes of how society perceives mental illness, and while he stops short of linking them to his macguffin, these little glimpses of self-awareness are some of the most thought-provoking moments in the film. Sadly, their macabre smiles hide much more mystery and fascination than their director manages to achieve with them. Smile tries to follow in the footsteps of The Ring or It Follows, staying at a functional intermediate point, but not very interesting, both in terms of narrative resources and in its ways of frightening the viewer.
The film is directed by newcomer Parker Finn, known for his two short films The Hidebehind and Laura Hasn’t Slept. Yes ok surprise his work behind the cameras when it comes to certain choices of shots, the planning of certain scenes or the disturbing soundtrack, all of this is at the service of the enormous ode to jumpscare that the film entails. Smile is unable to generate tension outside the more immediate context of waiting for the next (and predictable) scare. Although it’s not my favorite type of fear, I appreciate the value of a good jumpscare, in which the important thing is not so much the destination, but the journey of uncertainty until it hits you. Nevertheless, Smile is especially tricky when it comes to executing his blows of effect, not earning (almost) any of the shocks that he inevitably causes. Of course, the scenes that work do it especially well, with moments of genuine terror hidden in the rest of the bland footage.
Its first and promising minutes generate a dread that the film cannot sustain, reaching to lower the tension to unexpected extremes in some moments. The last bars of the film, meanwhile, are a bitter consolation.: the festival of imagery and madness that we see in its last scene only finds a reflection of quality at the beginning of the film, placing in the middle a misplaced film that is difficult to relate to its extremes.
It is not that they have a great responsibility for the quality of the whole, but it is worth noting the general low level in the acting cast; beyond the successful casting choices of “the smiling ones”, both the protagonist and the secondary are capable of transforming many of their scenes into much less tense and serious shots than they should with performances that are surprising that they have passed to the version final of the film.
I also think it is important to mention that in case you have seen the final trailer of the film, these feelings of disenchantment can increase exponentially. The enormous interest that she had for Smile was only motivated by its promotional images and its premise; after leaving the movie theater she wanted to see the official trailer to see the level of gutting exercised on this occasion. The result is more terrifying than the film itself, in every way. I understand the hype that Smile has generated, since it condenses and reveals practically all its important scenes in just two minutes. Watch it at your own risk, as it’s a terrible exercise in overexposure.
The best thing that can be said about Smile is that works well as that conventional horror movie that fills the rooms with teenagers who want to have a good time. I’m not saying this as a bad thing, but having this objective clear, there are exponents that show a much higher quality. On a technical level, it stands out among many other feature films of the genre, thanks to the personality that Parker Finn transmits through his filming. However, the concept of him and the strong visual identity of him asked for more, much more.
It raises one of those ideas so brilliant and simple that it is surprising that they have not been exploited in a more savage way: the enormous contradiction and restlessness, both on a personal and social level, that a simple smile can keep; coupled with the stigma of mental illness, its use is wasted with uninspired scares under the label of a psychological terror that I have had a hard time finding. And it is that when a trailer is capable of generating much more powerful fascination and sensations than those of the film that synthesizes, something is wrong.