Movie review: “Smile”

Smile gained the attention of the world with its unique marketing tactics and since its release has received positive reviews. Allie Nichols 23 said, I literally screamed out loud in the movie theater. Graphic by: Hugh Murphy

“Smile” gained the attention of the world with its unique marketing tactics and since its release has received positive reviews. Allie Nichols ’23 said, “I literally screamed out loud in the movie theater.” Graphic by: Hugh Murphy

Hugh Murphy and Annika Lange

An electrifying scare-fest that lacks substance

“Smile” intrigued prospective audiences with a cheesy yet eerie trailer that would play in front of many during its big release. Though a bit imitative of films like “It Follows” and “The Ring”, “Smile” seemed to set itself apart enough to stir up some excitement.

Taylor Baldwin ‘24 said, “I think the trailer left you questioning so much that when you find out everything that’s actually going on, you are just in shock.”

The movie set the world abuzz with its more recent marketing tactic. Actors were hired to sit behind home plate at several baseball games and smile at the camera nonstop while wearing brightly colored shirts with the movie’s title. Actors also stood outside the Good Morning America studio and appeared ominously in the background of the frame.

This unique marketing strategy brought the film far more attention and led to an opening weekend box office total of $22 million, enough to give it the number one spot over films like “Don’t Worry Darling” with $19.2 million, “The Woman King” with $19 million and “Bros” with $4.8 million. 

“Smile” was directed by Parker Finn and is his first feature film. It is an adaptation of his short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept”. “Smile” tells the story of Dr. Rose Cotter, a therapist working in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. After one of her patients commits suicide right in front of her, Cotter suffers from vivid delusions, extreme paranoia and anxiety, leading her to believe there is something paranormal at play. 

The cinematography does its job, with a few brilliant shots sprinkled throughout. The scariest moments of the film are complimented by camerawork that balances capturing the horror of the moment with shakiness and jolting movement, thus allowing the viewer to witness the terror on screen through a variety of wide and still shots. 

The cinematography is bolstered by a slew of good performances. Sosie Bacon stars as Dr. Cotter in her first major leading role, and she excelled with what she was given. Her fear penetrates through the screen so that audiences can feel her panic right alongside her. Kyle Gallner played Cotter’s ex-boyfriend and Jessie T. Usher played Cotter’s fiance. Both performed their parts well, with their laid-back performances playing off Bacon’s frenzied terror nicely. 

Filled to the brim with tension and horror, the movie scares the audience in a multitude of ways. The typical, loud-noise jumpscares are used throughout, yet “Smile” also subverts these tropes and uses them to its advantage by creating the setup to a jumpscare only to abandon it, ambushing the viewer when they least expect it.

Allie Nichols ‘23 said, “[‘Smile’] was super scary, the jump scares were the scariest part. I literally screamed out loud in the movie theater.”

Tension in the film is furthered through drawn-out silences and the exploitation of subtle body horror as figures look almost human except for exemplified features, examples being long, spindly limbs or the titular overexaggerated smile. The exploitation of the human form pushes even deeper as Cotter experiences extreme violence and gore, both in her visions and reality.

The movie “Smile” revolves around an evil entity that takes over the body of its victims and forces them to put on an inhuman smile before taking their own life. Taylor Baldwin ’24 said, “I really enjoyed finding out what happened over the whole movie and I was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time.” Drawing by: Annika Lange

Baldwin said, “I would say the scariness [of the movie] was a 9/10, especially at the end of the movie. I was ready to cover my eyes at any moment. Sleeping in a dark room that night was interesting for sure.”

The synthesis of these scare tactics results in a two-hour anxiety machine that never gives the viewer time to breathe, making the film a master class in terrifying a modern audience. However, when the layers of horror are peeled back, the mediocrity of the story is revealed. 

The film shows its hand quite early on but still leaves out certain details to keep the viewer intrigued and guessing.

Baldwin said, “I really enjoyed finding out what happened over the whole movie and I was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time. The storyline was very bizarre. I don’t think there was ever a time I knew what was going to happen next.”

The story does its job to keep the viewer engaged at the minimum level but does not compare to the masterful work done by other horror films like “Hereditary” or “Get Out.” The characters are acceptable but nothing extraordinary and their interactions serve their storytelling purposes but fail to make the audience invest in them. 

Despite how well the scares are handled, the actual concept on display is almost comedic and hard to take seriously. Some sequences fall flat due to this and the story of the film suffers as a whole. 

The mystery of the film and the explanation behind its events are explored minimally, matching the interesting backstories and concepts that have their potential left unfulfilled. 

The themes of guilt and trauma that the film attempts to explore are given little attention in the grand scheme of the movie and its message is quite shallow and cliché. 

Nichols said, “I thought the twister in the movie was really good but I think it could have had a better ending.”

“Smile” hits it out of the park when it comes to terror and scares, but for those searching for deep and meaningful stories, you will be better off looking somewhere else. 

Baldwin said, “I would recommend [‘Smile’] 110 percent.” 

Nichols said, “[I would recommend the movie], but definitely take someone with you.” 

We would recommend “Smile” to horror fans and those looking for a good scare during the Halloween season.