Smile Is An Intense And Clever Thriller That Brings The Scares

Speak with any life coach, inspirational speaker or parent and they will tell you that starting each conversation with a smile is a great way to disarm and instantly put at ease the person you are talking with. For example, you walk into your local coffee shop, its crazy busy, people are running around trying to fulfill orders, and it looks like the person behind the counter has already worked a twelve-hour shift by 6AM. You saunter up to the counter, the person scowls at you, asks what you’d like to order. You flash your stunning smile, say “Good morning” and you see that frown turn upside down. Ok, maybe that’s not how it always works, but that’s the idea right? A smile is meant to convey someone is friendly, happy, and generally approachable. However, what would happen if a smile conveyed something completely different? What if a smile was something sinister, dark, and malevolent? Maybe after folks go to see the movie Smile, the entire meaning will be turned on its head?

Smile wastes practically no time setting up the premise. In an emergency psych ward Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a doctor who spends almost all of her waking (and sleeping) hours working with her numerous psych patients. Laura (Caitlin Stasey), a seemingly sane PHD student arrives with an uncontrollable fear that she is going to die. She describes how several days prior; her professor had killed himself with a claw hammer right in front of her. Ever since that event she has been taunted by something that takes the form of people she knows and doesn’t know, always with a sinister smile across their faces. Before Rose can get any additional information, Laura kills herself in a predictably gruesome fashion, right before her very eyes. Rose’s only hope is reaching out to Tyler (Kyle Gallner) her ex-boyfriend who also happens to be a cop to help unravel the mystery before her.

Smile clearly takes its inspiration from similar films such as It Follows and Fallen in many ways surpassing those films with its constant sense of suspense and dread. It keeps the viewers guessing whether what Rose is seeing is real or some demented figment of her imagination. The film manages to maintain its atmosphere utilizing jump scares sparingly and relying more on its mystery and uneasiness to push the narrative forward.

Smile is one the most suspenseful movies I’ve seen this year. While it has its fair share of gore, it’s the psychological aspects that really propel this movie into being simply a copy of the same genre films that have come before it. While it doesn’t necessarily break new ground, it effectively utilizes cinematography and atmospheric shots to portray a woman who is seemingly descending into madness to those all around her, and yet still appearing sane to those who know better. The film effectively blurs the line between psychosis and reality, at times even asking the audience to determine whether what we see is truly real, or simply the shattering of a professional’s mind before our very eyes.

At a run time of almost two hours, I never felt that Smile dragged. While there certainly could have been a greater focus on the victims before Rose, the story is less about the entity itself, and more about how demons (both real and imagined) can twist the mind of even someone who should know better. Rose constantly struggles with what is physical and what is metaphysical, feeling that if she can simply take control of her own sanity, that she can somehow erase the entity using only willpower and the power of her mind.

Smile is a great addition to the Halloween season and is a fantastic way to kick off the fall time. It may not change the formula in any significant way, but at the end of the day you are in for a frightfully good time. If you have been waiting for a smart thriller to make its way to theaters before spending your hard-earned money, you could certainly do far worse than Smile. In fact, after seeing it, you might just look forward to the frowny faces of those behind the counter at your favorite coffee shop!

4 out of 5 stars