Wednesday, 28 September 2022



USA 2022
Directed by Parker Finn
Paramount Pictures
UK Cinema release print.

Warning: Very light spoilers.

So there’s a moment in the trailer of Smile which really got me to take a trek out to a preview screening of this in the UK (although, by the time this review sees the light of day, it will have just come out on general release). I dunno, preview windows seem to be getting smaller.

Anyway, the scene in question... and I don’t mind talking about it because it’s technically not a spoiler, as it’s included in most (possibly all) of the various Smile trailers... is when the lead protagonist is sitting in her car and somebody comes up to her window and taps on it. As she looks up, the head of the person outside the car dangles down like it’s been released from a bungee cord, a smile on its face. It’s a nice piece of imagery and, it’s a shame that surprise moment in the film is given away in the trailer but, it’s a heck of an image to sell it to people.

Smile stars Sosie Bacon as psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter and, one of her emergency patients is terrified out of her wits. She tells Rose about a smiling demon that’s been following her since somebody killed themselves in front of her and, when she clearly starts to see it in the room with them, Rose turns to the phone to call for security. By the time she’s turned around the patient has a big, rictus grin on her face and is staring straight at Rose as she cuts through part of her own face and then her throat with a shard of broken china. And, of course, from that point on, Rose starts getting hassled by the demon.

So, yeah, it’s yet another one of those pass the curse films but, that’s okay, I love those. They can trace back their roots at least as far as M. R. James’ short story Casting The Runes, which was adapted into a great movie called Night/Curse Of The Demon (reviewed here), a TV play (reviewed here) and, of course, many popular, unofficial modern variants such as the Ringu (aka Ring) films, Drag Me To Hell, It Follows (reviewed here) and Truth Or Dare (reviewed here)... among many others.

Like most of those films I just mentioned, the central curse or demon has no real origin story made clear (Ringu is a big exception to this rule, obviously) and, like many a zombie apocalypse film, the main protagonists are usually in the dark as to the why and who of the situation, in terms of said demonic entity. This film, then, follows the standard formula of the main ‘cursed’ individual trying to figure out the pattern and rules of the game in order to be able to stop it. Luckily for Rose (and the audience, for that matter), her ex-boyfriend is a cop and so she calls on him to help her in terms of bringing to light certain aspects of the case and to identify the presence of a ‘chain’ linking her to all the other victims... all but one of whom ended up taking their own life in a spectacular fashion in front of somebody, passing the curse on.

Two things which give this story credibility in terms of the way the Rose character is treated are quite clever. One is that they set up her character as somebody who does 80 hour working weeks and doesn’t really rest that much. So when she starts acting a little loopy, people assume this is just because she’s not getting enough down time. The other thing this movie does is give Rose and her sister a back story of a mother who suicided when Rose was a little girl... Rose choosing to run in fear rather than help save her from an overdose (which she didn’t realise was happening at the time)... so we also have a big dollop of guilt to throw into the mix and give the demonic entity something else to play with, which is nice.

My one slight criticism of the film is that it doesn’t really land the ending for me. These kinds of stories either end with disaster for the recipient of the demonic spirit or said recipient finds a way to pass the curse on (rarely can they break the chain)... and in this film the modus operandi of the demonic entity is that you either have to kill yourself, or somebody else, in front of someone to pass the curse. So, obviously, it’s not going to end well for anyone. And, although some misdirection is deliberately set up with one of those two rules... yeah, you’re probably going to see the ending of this one coming, for sure.

But, it’s a really fun ride, it has to be said. And there are some nice moments to be had. One is the head dangle scene I described earlier and the other, without giving too much away, is a nicely surreal special effect when you see just how the demon comes to inhabit its victims near the end of the movie.

Oh, and the score by Cristobel Tapia de Veer... it’s amazing. Like the best kind of modern horror meets sound design but with a decidedly strong ‘musique concrète’ vibe to it. And it really goes for it in terms of assaulting the audience in the audio space and being mixed in to the foreground of the movie loud and clear (as movie music should be). Such a shame there’s no CD of this one as I’m sure I would play it to death.

And that’s me done on Smile. It’s a fun little horror flick which is aided by some lovely cinematography, a great score and a wonderful central performance by Sosie Bacon. I would definitely recommend this to all the horror fans out there and I’ll definitely be trying to pick up a Blu Ray of this thing at some point soon. Fingers crossed it gets a proper physical release.

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