You’ll have to forgive me for thinking that the marketing materials preceding Smile weren’t the most engaging. I was arrogantly sure that the horror skeptics would be turned off by a primitive visual of a creepy smile and the ‘cheap’ jump scares showcased in the teasers and horror enthusiasts would chalk it up to another trashy genre movie with nothing new to offer. I was wrong. From a modest $17 Million production budget to a proportionally impressive $137.5 Million gross at the global box office, financially speaking, Smile is nothing short of a smash hit. So props to the marketing team for pulling so many people to see an original IP in a cinematic landscape that feels ever-more saturated by comic book movies, and franchise sequalisation.
But putting the money to one side for a second (sadly an attitude seldom shared by the studio execs at the top of the food-chain), does Smile warrant its success? Is it anything more than what, at first glance, it appears? In short, yes. The film embraces many traditional tropes of the genre yes, but molds them to its unique premise – an entity or curse that eventually drives the bearer to suicide and in doing so passes it on to the closest witness. Admittedly, it is somewhat derivative of David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 masterpiece It Follows. ‘It’ being a shapeshifting creature that pursues its victims slowly yet relentlessly and can be temporarily sated by passing the curse on to another. However, Smile brings enough unique DNA and ideas to this central proposition to differentiate itself and stand on its own merit.
A magnetic and firm central performance from Sosie Bacon anchors the film as her character Dr. Rose Cotter dominates almost every scene. A gradual and believable descent into insanity runs throughout the story as Cotter’s desperation and chaotic energy drive her deeper into despair. Compounded by the fact that the only safe and sensible choice left for her loved ones is to pull away, leaving her isolated in her frenzied attempt to elude a seemingly assured fate. The tension created is palpable and ramps up relentlessly towards a visceral and grisly climax with shocking imagery and grim twists of fate. The direction from feature-film-debutant, Parker Finn, is a delight. He blends classic horror visuals with precisely composed camerawork, making frequent use of symmetry and optical balance throughout.
Ruling – Finn’s calculated direction, combined with a powerful central performance and a genuinely menacing enemy, equates to a horror film that, though not entirely original, will certainly have an afterlife beyond its surprisingly successful release run. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Smile 2 announced in the not-too-distant future.