Thanks to the best jump scares of the year and terrifying creature design, the psychological horror of Smile is spreading like wildfire among critics and fans.
By John Farrar
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Smile, the new psychological horror film starring Sosie Bacon (daughter of the legendary Kevin Bacon) has dominated the box office for the second week in a row. No film has topped the list twice in a row since the highly anticipated summer blockbuster Bullet Train starring Brad Pitt. This is no small feat, especially for first time feature director Parker Finn. For a film with a small budget that almost went straight to streaming, Smile has been a smashing success that is perfect for a night out with friends this spooky season.
Whether you’re a fiend for jumpscares or a horror fanatic who simply wants to feel something after years of being desensitized, Smile is worth a watch.
Why has the film spread like wildfire over the last two weeks? We’ll discuss all the details of the movie and why viewers are loving it, but first let’s take a look at what sparked the hype train for Smile before it even released: the genius marketing strategy.
Smile has had one of the most unique marketing campaigns since The Dark Knight—which hosted an Alternate Reality Game designed to get people involved in discovering clues and details about the film through real-life clues and events. Smile’s campaign took an equally distinct approach. After the release of the initial trailer—which depicted the film as a fun yet admittedly derivative and unoriginal popcorn flick, Paramount Pictures hired actors to photobomb sporting events and the background of the Today show. Each anonymous actor would stand with an unnerving smile on their face and stare into the camera for the entirety of the broadcast.
But that’s not all. In addition to the creepy smilers, a new website allows users to report smiles they spot around the world or upload photos of themselves or their friends using the "Smile" filter on Snapchat. This surprise marketing strategy sparked the pop culture buzz for Smile, intriguing users on social media and getting people excited to see the movie in theaters. Thankfully, the film itself was as unsettling as its marketing, an accomplishment in its own right.
After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can't explain. Rose must confront her troubling past in order to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.
In terms of the plot, Finn clearly took inspiration from well-respected horror films like It Follows and The Ring. There will inevitably be comparisons to Truth or Dare which has an eerily similar premise, but fortunately Smile is nowhere near as derivative as that disappointment. Although the "evil entity hunting you down" trope is nothing new in the horror genre, it’s executed well thanks to a fantastic lead performance by Sosie Bacon and glorious visual effects.
The Best Jump Scares of the Year
Smile’s plethora of unique and effective jump scares stand out from the horror movie pack. While not all of them land, there were moments when I literally jumped out of my seat. I went into the film expecting the smiling component to be a bit silly and nonsensical, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the smiles are truly unsettling and work well for building tension. The jump scares and visual design of the evil entity are not for the faint of heart.
Chilling Sound Design
In addition to unexpected jump scares, Smile places a huge emphasis on sound design. From the score, to bass, to unique sound effects, there is never a dull auditory moment thanks to gripping audio mixing. Nearly every scene ends with some form of audible transition to the next scene, leading to a continuous building of tension. As a result, the pacing is fast, making it the ideal movie to watch with a sibling or significant other who falls asleep within 10 minutes of putting on a new movie (I’m speaking from personal experience).
Sosie Bacon is a Rising Star
Sosie Bacon’s performance as Dr. Rose Cotter elevates Smile from “so bad it’s good” to true horror standout. Rose is a psychologist with a traumatic past. She got into the field of medicine in order to help people struggling with mental illness, something she wasn’t able to do for her own mother, who battled addiction. Bacon’s portrayal of this complicated, nuanced doctor was genuinely moving. The dialogue feels natural and comedic at times, courtesy of a great dynamic between Rose and her ex-boyfriend, providing a welcomed counterpoint to the movie’s tense moments.
Parker Finn has a strong sense of visual style and direction, as displayed by the unique use of drone shots, seamless transitions, and interesting camera placement. Near the end of the film, we finally get a look at the “entity” (I’m keeping it vague to avoid spoilers) and its appearance is genuinely unnerving. If you’re worried about bad dreams, be warned that the last 15 minutes of the film is pure nightmare fuel.
Should you watch the 2022 horror movie Smile?
There are many redeeming qualities to Smile, but I was left a bit disappointed by the ending. It feels as though every modern horror movie has some variation of the same ending. Right when I thought Smile might actually be going in a new direction and subverting my expectations, it unfortunately reverts right back to the predictable ending that we’ve all come to expect.
Smile is not revolutionary, but its themes of dealing with mental health and facing long-surpressed traumas add a layer of depth that many modern horror films don’t even come close to. Convince your friends to go with you and go watch Smile in theaters today!
Smile raked in $22.6 million on opening weekend and followed it up with a whopping $17.6 million last weekend. As explained on Box Office Mojo.
This is the year's best second weekend hold and it is among the best ever for a horror film. With a cume of $49.9 million, Smile is running ahead of the year’s highest grossing horror movie The Black Phone, which had $47.4 million after ten days and went on to gross $89.9 million. - Box Office Mojo
What the Critics Are Saying
Joe Aragon @cinemajoe
When Smile is actively trying to be a horror film it is a glorious, gruesome, and terrifying ride. The issue is that it spends a good amount of time trying to be a detective story, which is never as deep or interesting as it thinks it is.
Wendy Ide (The Guardian)
The combination of a committed central performance from the increasingly gaunt and haunted Bacon, and a jarring, tortured score, makes for an enjoyably nasty brush with the smiling face of evil.
Amon Warmann (Empire Magazine)
Though it may be derivative, Smile still manages to be a scary, unsettling ride that is powered by an impressively committed Sosie Bacon performance and some assured direction. Finn is one to watch.
Smile is not my favorite horror movie of the year but it is the horror movie I’ve been waiting for. Mid budget, kind of corny, uncomplicated popcorn horror with really good jump scares. I think this rocks for what it is and audiences are really going to like it.
If you’re interested in other movies that put a twist on the "evil entity hunting you down" trope, check out:
The Grudge An American nurse living and working in Tokyo is exposed to a mysterious supernatural curse, one that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim.
It Follows After carefree teenager Jay sleeps with her new boyfriend, Hugh, for the first time, she learns that she is the latest recipient of a fatal curse that is passed from victim to victim via sexual intercourse. Death, Jay learns, will creep inexorably toward her as either a friend or a stranger. Jay’s friends don’t believe her seemingly paranoid ravings, until they too begin to see the phantom assassins and band together to help her flee or defend herself.
The Ring It sounded like just another urban legend: A videotape filled with nightmarish images, leading to a phone call foretelling the viewer’s death in exactly seven days. As a newspaper reporter, Rachel Keller was naturally skeptical of the story, until four teenagers all met with mysterious deaths exactly one week after watching just such a tape. Allowing her investigative curiosity to get the better of her, Rachel tracks down the video… and watches it. Now she has just seven days to unravel the mystery of the Ring.
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