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SMILE

Written By:

Jack Bottomley
Smile-starburst-magazine-review

CERT: 18 / PLATFORMS: CINEMA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

In an already fantastic year for big screen horror on scales and budgets grander (The Black Phone, Nope) and smaller (Dashcam, X) alike, we have a winner that’s a grinner to add to what is the most healthy genre out there. Writer/director Parker Finn, in his directorial debut Smile adapted from his own 2020 short Laura Hasn’t Slept, takes his simple but shudderingly effective concept and runs wildly with it.

Smile centres on therapist worker Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), who is left shaken when a patient kills herself in a session, after talking of being stalked by a presence only she can see, which appears in the guise of various people with a devious and unnerving grin. Then, things begin happening as Rose sees visions of this very entity, and must uncover what it is, what is real and how to stop it, by looking back into the past (and her own) for answers.

Smile is a boldly nasty and even more boldly cruel horror picture. A genuinely frightening film that picks up on a very universal uncomfortable fear most of us have of being watched or stared at and weaponises it in the shape of a truly original hellish horror monster befitting Dante’s Inferno by the end, in what could prove to be one of the breakout horrors of the 2020s. 

Utilising the inescapable prowling concept of fate to great means, Smile is very much like a It Follows or The Ring style story. Finn makes expert use of traditional horror techniques and storytelling, while infusing some deviously dark twists here and there, as he relays a brutal story of the stigmatisation, isolation and hopelessness that comes with mental health, going all out in a particularly brutally honest climax. 

Any cliches put to work, are done so to urge viewers to participate, before cutting them down with the levels the film is actually prepared to go to. While also infusing some things with a wicked sense of parody and demented joyfulness, befitting of this mostly concealed smiling tormentor. While the oft inverted camerawork by Charlie Sarroff’s cinematography and Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s fluctuating pulsating score likewise carry this same level of dark taunting. Finn orchestrates everything well, using jump scares as skilfully as subtle ones, while the story of inevitability and its effective lore is well established.

Sosie Bacon is utterly captivating in the lead role, and her performance not only meshes so well with the themes of the movie but she captures the shattering hopelessness that comes with being trapped and attacked by trauma and internal mental pain.

The more you think about Smile, and some of its memorably horrifying scenes, the more it tunnels inescapably into your head. As its almost cynical narrative dissects the realities and Final Destination-esque force of suffering that can come with undressed trauma and mental health and attitudes towards it.

Putting it bluntly this will shit up a fair few viewers I’d wager…who may just have to try and grin and bear it. Still, it’s worth putting on a brave face for! 😃

Jack Bottomley

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