The movie equivalent of the chili scene from The Office.
The final scene ended in Smile and the lights went up, and as the room brightened the first sound I heard came from a man in the row in front of me. A man who had the appearance of a marshmallow peep that’s been put in the microwave, melted, and allowed to partially reform. He was there with his lady friend who also looked like several chunks of misshapen chewing gum hastily crammed together. The two of them spent most of the movie occasionally pulling up their phones to scroll through Instagram like ignorant assholes. Anyway, the guy said “what the fuck” and I couldn’t agree with him more. The last time I had this happen was in Lamb but in a good way. This time not so much.
The biggest thought that ran through my mind watching Smile was “directorial debut” alongside “based on a short,” and a quick glance at the movie’s Wikipedia page told me I was two for two. My second thought was that the director and writer were likely the same person, so make it three for three. And I knew right off the bat that this was an adaptation of a short film because it reminded me of Mama, a horror movie that worked great as a sub-15 minute short but really outstayed its welcome as a two hour movie. And Smile clocks in at just under two hours. Jesus Christ. Remember my rule people, 90 minutes is the perfect length for a horror film whether good or bad!
Smile is directed by Parker Finn, who has done jack shit prior to this movie and it shows. It stars Sosie Bacon as Dr. Rose Cotter, a psychiatrist who finds herself the victim of a curse after a patient brutally commits suicide in front of her. She finds herself stalked by an evil entity that gives her nightmares, causes her to do bad things, and appears in the form of people doing a really stupid smile. I bet Parker Finn wasn’t expecting the theater to be laughing during these scenes, because the people in the theater I was in thought it was hilarious. I hate the goddamn theater. Can Rose figure out the root of the curse and how to beat it before it’s too late? Let’s hope not because I hated her.
In my first sentence I referred to the movie as the chili scene from the office, where Kevin walks into the office with his famous chili and then spills it all over the ground, desperately trying to clean it up and making a mess in the process alongside ruining the remaining chili. That’s the best summary I can give for Smile, a film that feels like it might have been going in the right direction and then Parker Finn spilled it all over the rug. Because the first death scene is genuinely frightening. Actually I should say the only death scene. One of two. There’s almost no death in this film.
I think what really killed Smile for me was that it leaned too heavily on the stupid smile. It’s another dumb ass horror shtick that sounds like it was made to mock the audience. Like the concept of Bye Bye Man or The Empty Man, the latter of which was also a director/writer combo made by David Prior and based on a short. I don’t have an eye for these things because I’m exceptionally intelligent, I just watch a lot of movies and notice the trends.
You know who can pull of a creepy smile? Tony Todd. The dude nailed it as Candyman. You know who can’t pull off a stuck smile and make it look scary? Almost everyone in this movie who tries it. Look at Tony Todd’s beautiful face. LOOK AT IT! If this man came out of a hole in the wall and offered you candy with that smile you’d poop your pants until you crapped out your living soul. Once again it’s a case of SNL syndrome, taking a concept that works fine as a ten minute skit and finding it doesn’t translate quite that well to a feature length film.
Smile is what you would get if you Xeroxed The Ring a dozen times over, taking each gradually faded copy and putting it through to make the next version and repeating it all over again. Actually I’m going to change my answer above. What really soured my mood in the story is when the main character discovers that everyone who gets cursed dies within seven days and the rest of the concept follows The Ring effectively beat for beat. I almost said “screw you” out loud in the theater at this revelation, but the guy in the row behind did it for me. Great crowd. The film is a subtle metaphor for how a person’s suicide doesn’t make the suffering go away, it just transfers that suffering over to the closest living relative or witness. Except here it’s a literal demon. And when I say subtle, I mean in the same way getting run over by a car is a subtle metaphor for getting run over by a car.
I have to give this movie credit for one thing and it’s the fact that the spoopies are well done and in a lot of cases very intelligently and creatively set up. One thing that Parker Finn does that I really liked is he throws away the hallmark soundtrack amping up that plagues western horror to let you know the spoopies are coming. The film gets very quiet a lot and it lets the audience simmer in the tension. Any director who can play silence like a fiddle earns my respect and for that I recommend watching it at home where that silence also isn’t peppered by assholes whispering to each other. While there’s an abundance of jump scares and you’re not going to find the kind of subtleties like the old Japanese Grudge films, there’s a fair number that have a good set up and payoff. The birthday scene was great.
If only the smile wouldn’t ruin the tension. Also if those assholes in marketing didn’t put some of the better jump scare moments in the friggin trailer.
I’d also like to note how weird the sound mixing in this film is. Everything is too loud and makes too much noise to the point where it’s almost like it’s done for comedic effect. Rose Cotter puts on concealer in one point and the sound the brush makes dipping into the liquid sounds like someone churning butter it’s so loudly squishy and right next to the camera. There’s a few parts in the movie where the audio became so loud and so suddenly that I can actually feel the damage it did to my hearing now that the movie is over. And I’m not trying to be funny or hyperbolic, I can actually feel the damage to my eardrums and it’s been a few hours since the movie ended.
You may have noticed I haven’t really mentioned any of the supporting cast and it’s because their presence is basically vestigial. Kal Penn is here. Their job is mostly to turn into spoopy doppelgangers and then look shocked and scared at Rose going crazy so she can scream “I’m not crazy” at them. The ending of this movie sucked and it took what was basically on thin ice and ruined it for me. Maybe if the film was 30 minutes shorter the ending would have made it feel like less of a waste of my time. Nothing is really accomplished, there’s no stakes outside of waiting for the main character’s clock to get punched, and I can create a whole list of things I could have spent that two hours on that’d be more productive. Like Swiffering my sidewalk.
I will say that I’m looking forward to Parker Finn’s next movie. If he put some original thought into the overall plot structure and wrote a satisfying ending, his next film could be a hit.