'Smile' horror movie 2022 review: There's plenty to make fans happy – The Arizona Republic

Other horror movies have done it better, but that doesn’t mean “Smile” doesn’t do it well.
Do what? Use a series of horror tropes to scare you. Simple as that. There’s a generous helping of “It Follows” blended with a good-sized dose of “The Ring” — both classics of the genre, which this is not.
But “Smile,” written and directed by Parker Finn in his feature debut, is good and agonizingly enjoyable in part because it doesn’t hide its influences but instead has fun with them — and because of a harrowing performance by Sosie Bacon. (The film is an expansion of Finn’s short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept.”)
Bacon plays Rose Cotter, a therapist working punishing hours in a psychiatric hospital. She’s at the end of a shift one day when she comes back to her office for a call — so close to getting away, a nice touch. A young woman has come in, hysterical. She is a doctorate candidate who witnessed a professor’s death by suicide four days before. He bludgeoned himself with a hammer in front of her.
Traumatic as that was, something else is going on. The woman tells Rose that something is coming for her, something that no one else can see but hides itself in people, like wearing a mask. Rose tries to comfort her, employs the usual psychiatric tools, but the woman will not have it.
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After a distraction when Rose looks at the woman again her face is frozen in what is best described as a vulpine grin, only creepier. And then she slices her own throat.
Rose is horrified, of course. Her fiancé Trevor (Jessie T. Usher) tries about halfway to be supportive of her evident trauma, but he’s also wary. Rose’s mother died by suicide when she was young, something for which Rose has always blamed herself. Trevor is afraid Rose will follow a similar path.
Her boss (Kal Penn) and her therapist (Robin Weigert) seek medical answers to Rose’s suddenly rapidly declining mental health. Her sister Holly (Gillian Zinser), a hilariously self-centered stay-at-home mom disdainful of Rose’s life, is less helpful, but there’s a good reason. (Rose’s epic takedown of Holly and her life is immensely satisfying, even if it’s supposed to reveal Rose’s declining state.)
Only Rose’s former boyfriend Joel (Kyle Gallner), a police officer, is willing to really listen and help Rose as she slowly figures out what is going on in a string of seemingly otherwise unrelated cases in which the witness to a violent death by suicide in a matter of days then kills themselves horrifically in front of another witness.
And always with that smile.
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Rose is haunted literally and figuratively by both her mother’s death and her patient’s, and now with the belief that she is next.
Finn pulls out all the horror-movie stops in putting the audience through the same dread Rose is feeling. There are jump scares galore, fake-outs and feints, sudden blasts of music, distortions of reality, dreams that may not be dreams — but might be.
It’s all effective in keeping the audience off-kilter and on edge, start to finish. Which, of course, is what makes a horror movie effective.
Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon, himself the star of a hugely underrated horror movie (“Stir of Echoes”), effectively portrays someone who is fully aware of how unbelievable her complaints sound, but also aware that she is trapped in a situation with no clear way out.
What Finn’s film lacks in originality it makes up for in technical prowess, and he has the courage of his convictions. The colors, even the ones that should be bright, are muted. Everything is just a touch off, until it’s a lot off.
“Smile” isn’t a great horror film, but there’s plenty here to make you … well, you know.
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Director: Parker Finn.
Cast: Sosie Bacon, Kyle Gallner, Robin Weigert.
Rating: R for strong violent content and grisly images, and language.
Note: In theaters Sept. 30.
Reach Goodykoontz at [email protected]. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.
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