Director: Parker Finn
Starring: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan
Run Time: 115 mins
Smile is a psychological horror written and directed by Parker Finn, in his feature-length debut. Finn expands his 2020 short film called Laura Hasn’t Slept. The film follows a therapist named Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) who starts having increasingly disturbing experiences after witnessing the unexplained suicide of a patient. She starts to believe her experiences are supernatural. The marketing for Smile hasn’t seemed particularly convincing, but how does it fare?
Smile is a surprisingly effective psychological horror that deftly explores the themes of trauma, grief and guilt through horror’s generic constructs. It’s not perfect – it overrelies on some classical horror tropes, particularly with its use of jump scares and there’s nothing here you’ve haven’t seen before. It’s also around 10 minutes overlong.
That said, it’s impressive that it doesn’t fully reveal what is haunting Cotter right until the very end and as a result, it maintains its tension. There’s also a terrifically creepy yet awkward party and the atmosphere of the hospital Cotter works at is also well-realised.
Sosie Bacon makes for a compelling lead as the increasingly frantic Cotter, who we learn is burying some past trauma of her own. Jessie T. Usher turns in an uncharacteristically sombre performance as Cotter’s uncaring husband. Caitlin Stasey is also excellent as the patient who takes her life in front of Cotter, having originally played the lead in Laura Hasn’t Slept.
The score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is unnerving and anxiety-inducing, successfully getting under the film’s skin. It’s also well shot by Charlie Sarroff, with some effective Dutch angles.
Smile is ultimately much better than it has any right to be and is thoroughly entertaining and meaningful from start to finish. No, it’s not the most original example of horror but despite an over reliance on jump scares, it maintains a creepy tension throughout and there are some striking images. It’s another solid horror to add to the impressive 2022 collection and I’m looking forward to seeing how Finn’s career develops.