Yes, smiles can be creepy.
And SMILE (2022), a new horror movie now playing in theaters, takes full advantage of that fact. For two thirds of its running time, it delivers some genuine scares and a very interesting premise, before it falls off a bit with some over-the-top and unintentionally laughable special effects and a plot in which its characters seem to figure things out long after the audience does.
For while, SMILE reminded me somewhat of a better horror movie from a few years back, IT FOLLOWS (2014) as both movies had a creative and rather unique plot. In IT FOLLOWS, in what served as an allegory for the transmission of stds, the supernatural threat was passed on from person to person through sexual contact. The entity in IT FOLLOWS would slowly follow its victims, a relentless pursuit which would only end in either the victim dying, or, if the victim had sex with someone, then the entity would be passed on to that person and would stalk them.
Here in SMILE, the entity feeds off trauma, and it stalks its victims through suicide. Each victim, who sees random and oftentimes people they know smiling at them strangely, are driven to commit suicide, and the person who witnesses the suicide is the next to be stalked. The difference between the two movies is that in IT FOLLOWS, the teenage characters aggressively attempted to fight back and figure out ways to stop the supernatural stalker, whereas here in SMILE, it takes forever for the characters to figure out what’s going on, and when they do, for some strange reason, they fail to act on it.
In SMILE, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) treats a young woman who insists she’s not crazy, that she is being stalked by a real creature that appears like ordinary human beings only with a sadistic smile. While Rose tries to treat her, the woman suddenly shrieks that the creature is in the room with them, and she brutally slits her own throat.
A short time later, Rose begins to experience the same symptoms, having bizarre and frightening hallucinations of people she knows smiling threateningly at her. To make matters more complicated, when Rose was a child she witnessed her abusive mother commit suicide, so when Rose begins to act unhinged, her sister, her fiancé, her boss, all believe it’s the result of childhood trauma. The only person who does believe her is her cop ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), and he helps her investigate the strange goings on, and they discover a trail going back a long time of suicide victims who were witnesses to other suicides. Rose then uses this information to fight for her life.
For a while, SMILE was firing on all cylinders. I was enjoying the story, which had a premise I found rather interesting, and the scares were there. Early on, there were some frightening scenes, spots where I actually jumped.
But when Rose finally figures out what is going on, and it becomes clear that the supernatural entity goes from one body to another after its current host’s suicide is witnessed by someone else, the story takes a hit because you expect Rose to realize this and make it her strategy to isolate herself, to get away from any other people in order to strip the creature of its calling card, but by the time she decides to do this, it’s way too late.
Plus, the film makes the dubious decision to include some over-the-top gross out effects which seem like they jumped off the set of a Tim Burton movie. Members of the audience actually laughed at these effects, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention.
Writer/director Parker Finn has written an intriguing horror tale but unfortunately his main characters suffer through a major case of the stupids and don’t figure things out until long after those of us sitting in the audience have done so. He does craft some frightening scenes early on, and I liked this, but the film doesn’t hold it together for its entirety, slowing down and becoming much less frightening as it closes in on its end credits.
SMILE is an okay horror movie that provides some decent scares for this Halloween season, even though in its latter half there isn’t all that much to smile about.
I give it two and a half stars.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful