CINEMA REVIEW: SMILE (2022)
Directed and written by Parker Finn
Based on Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn
Produced by: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Robert Salerno, Gabby Olivera
Cast: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, etc.
Cinematography: Charlie Sarroff
If you search YouTube by typing ‘short horror film’ you will find hundreds of really good and often scary, surprisingly enough, short horror films. A great majority of them will have a lengthy suspenseful set-up, before ending on a startling jump scare. The model itself is arguably overdone, however, it is an excellent set-up-punchline structure for new filmmakers to learn film techniques and scare the viewers. Many such short videos go viral and, in the case of Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn, get picked up for feature development. Hence, we have Parker Finn’s film debut, Smile (2022).
Smile (2022) opens with a suggestion of childhood trauma for lead protagonist, psychiatrist Doctor Rose Cotter when a child. The action then moves to the present day and brings us Rose’s confrontation with the disturbed patient, Laura. What follows is an expertly crafted and incredibly disturbing sequence, which plunges Rose into major threat from a nefarious force. Parker Finn then slowly builds Rose’s psychological breakdown as she experiences hallucinations, frights and memory loss as her partner, family and friends find her behaviour to be disturbing to say the least. A particularly grisly scene at a child’s birthday party was especially deadly and memorable.
As the film continues, I could not help but be reminded of both The Ring (1998/2002) and It Follows (2014) in terms of the story beats. Rose, while being pursued by some unknown demon, faces a race against time to avoid death. Both the aforementioned films are far superior as they have more plot and characterisation to propel the running time. Indeed, one of the major issues with Smile (2022) is that 115 minutes are too long for the character arc Rose Cotter is given. By the time her character revelation is complete it has taken an eternity to get there. Moreover, I was suffering jump-scare fatigue by the end, thus rendering the scarily horrific monster reveal to feel fearfully redundant.
Yet, Smile (2022) has an impactful thematic spine. While It Follows (2014) dealt with the threat of sexual disease within the subtext, Parker Finn’s debut powerfully delves into the impact of grief, guilt and mental health. Having said that, the narrative could have dug more into Rose’s past to really reveal the trauma she suffered as a child. Personally, I think a longer set-up of her character while growing up would have increased the drama. But Parker Finn gets an excellent performance from Sosie Bacon throughout, even if her perpetual appearance on screen as the harassed and troubled victim eventually promotes further fatigue. A scene-stealing exchange between Bacon and the electric Rob Morgan suggests his character should be lead in the inevitable horror sequel.