Smile Review

PLOT: After a traumatic event occurs with a patient, a doctor begins to experience a series of horrific occurrences.

REVIEW: The trailer for the horror flick Smile wasn’t a great way to sell the film – well, that was my reaction after seeing it. After all, we’ve seen movies like Truth or Dare and Wish Upon that offer a fun premise and squander it with a mediocre finished project. However, the Parker Finn-directed feature is a slight surprise. The strange story of traumatic events seemingly haunting a doctor works far better than expected. You will find horror tropes galore, dream sequences, jump scares, and jarring noises at times, but somehow it manages to entertain. Perhaps the filmmaker wanted to push those familiar moments into something more competently made. Frankly, it made me smile.

Dr. Rose Cotter is a therapist looked down upon by her housewife sister. Why become a doctor if you aren’t going to make buckets of money, her sibling questions her during an uncomfortable dinner. Yet things get scary for Rose after a horrific event involving a patient (Caitlin Stasey) brings on tragic consequences. Suddenly, the good doctor finds that she begins to see the same images the frightened patient claimed to see. Yet everyone around her thinks her trauma with the patient, and her mother’s death, may be getting to her. The only helpful soul she can count on is her ex-boyfriend, a detective named Joel (Kyle Gallner).

Smile review

Smile feels very familiar at times. We’ve seen all of this before. Dream sequences that try and frighten the weary audience. The sound design happily wants to bring on a jump or two. I have to admit that it worked a couple of times for me. All of this should have made for a generic, theatrical release genre feature that never lives up to even the slightest expectations. Yet I can’t help the feeling that this was all an attempt to play with an audience’s expectations for Parker Finn. The director has made an impressive-looking feature with a few inverted camera angles that, quite literally, turn this world upside down. The cinematography and visuals are far better than you may expect for a film like this.

Another plus is the casting of Sosie Bacon as Rose Cotter. Ms. Bacon – Kevin’s daughter – perfectly captures the intensity of the role. The actress creates a sympathetic character, one that you feel for immediately. Had they cast a lesser talent, it wouldn’t have been as successful thanks to her surprisingly layered take on the character. Other stand-outs include Kyle Gallner as a friend trying to help. And while I didn’t enjoy her early on in the film, Gillian Zinser has a chance to create some magic as the frustrated sister. Smile brings together a good cast that includes Kal Penn of Harold and Kumar fame.

Smile review

Unlike some previous supernatural-inspired, theatrically released features with a PG-13 rating, Smile can be a compelling and eerie thriller. As generic as it may seem, this atmospheric popcorn film plays around with the audience’s expectations. And yes, there will be blood. You experience slashings, bodies on fire, and a couple of gruesome images. It’s not going to make horror fans squeamish, but at least there’s enough red sauce to earn a worthy R-rating. Well, that and a few F-bombs for good measure. As familiar as it all may seem, and indeed, there are better and worse like it, this a film that will generate the kind of audience engagement you want when you check out the latest horror release with an excited group of fans.

Smile may use every horror trope in the book, but it does so rather well. It helps that the film offers such an impressive lead performance from Sosie Bacon, with solid support from Gallner, and while I didn’t give credit earlier, other cast members like Caitlin Stasey shine in addition to the leads. Parker Finn does an excellent job at creating a few unsettling visuals. And the jarring sound design and creative score – while more like a series of sounds and occasional voices in the mix – makes for a creepy and fun moviegoing experience. Smile isn’t breaking any new ground in horror, but its throw-everything-at-the-wall approach and the interesting take on trauma make for an entertaining flick. Put on an happy face and check out Smile, opening this Friday at a theatre near you.

7
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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.