Horror films permeate theaters year-round now. This is not a negative; the genre is famous for offering chills and thrills, tricks, or treats. Ideally, these thoughts pleasure those who seek out horror as an escape or identity. Over the years, idealism has also informed the basis for many horror stories, such as Parker Finn’s directorial debut, Smile, hits theaters this weekend.
Smile is the story of Dr. Rose Cotter, played by Sosie Bacon, a clinical psychologist with a troubled past. Finn’s script, based on the short film “Laura Hasn’t Slept,” by Finn, plays into our most interpersonal fears, visually and audibly. Several jump scares got even this critic to the point where I smiled and moved throughout the rest of the story. The film hits your vulnerabilities square in the chest, but then you remember the times as a child in a haunted house and just smile, taking the ride for what it is. Goose pimples and chills were also felt throughout; the trauma, both from the victims’ perspective and what Rose observes, keeps your heightened sense of awareness elevated.
Observes is an excellent way to describe the events within Smile. Contradictorily, you’ll probably want to do anything but smile as Rose experiences a bizarre, traumatic incident. When we first meet Rose, she has been on a shift for over 24 hours, with little to no sleep. One could immediately be forgiven for thinking that her overtired state contributes to a delusion. And, yet the events that she observes and consequently happen to her in the film are visceral, real. Bacon’s performance is critical in this regard.
Finn paints some normalcy in Rose’s life, namely Jessie T. Usher’s Trevor, Rose’s boyfriend, though his character is mere window dressing. Rose also has a sister, Laura, played by Gillian Zinser. Let’s face it, Laura is a first-class bitch. Laura is demanding and unforgiving, and Zinser relishes the performance. Laura is a “marker” for a traumatic past in both their lives; bitterness and resentment ensue.
Kyle Gallner’s Joel is a police detective, a former boyfriend, and another “marker.” Several laws were probably bent between their professions in the film; however, Joel’s involvement keeps the story moving forward, if unequally.
Finn and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff are deceptively simple in their approach to visual cues. That simplicity allows Smile to play to each character’s strengths and immerse the audience in the experience. Adding a creepy dimension to the experience is Cristobal Tapia de Veer’s enveloping score; again, simplistic yet effective in its application.
If there is one gripe, we spend 115 minutes with Rose, yet we know where her story will land, feeling like a bit of a cop-out, yet without it, the whole story would crumble. Except for Joel, the remainder of the characters fall off into the ether.
Smile has enough tricks and treats to keep the audience engaged. Given Paramount’s brilliant marketing strategy behind the film and a two-week lead over Universal’s latest Halloween franchise entry, its opening weekend should be strong.
Directed by Parker Finn
Written by Parker Finn, based on Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn
Starring Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stassey, Gillian Zinser, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan
R, 115 mins, Paramount Pictures/Paramount Players