Movie Review: “Smile”

Smile is a psychological horror film released on September 30, 2022. The release came just in time for the spooky season.

Paramount Pictures had a unique marketing campaign, employing the help of paid actors to smile while attending professional sporting events in highlighter-yellow shirts with the movie’s title.

Paramount also made an effort to advertise their trailer all over the internet, having it go viral on YouTube.

“Every time I would get an ad on YouTube, I would get a trailer for Smile,” commented Saint Paul’s senior Trip Walter. “It was getting to the point where it was getting annoying, but the marketing was insane,” he later added.

In the movie, we meet our protagonist, Dr. Rose Cotter, who tends to her patients at a mental hospital. But when a new patient traumatically takes her own life in front of her, Dr. Cotter begins to see phantoms smiling at her. As she investigates a chain of related suicides, she begins to descend into madness before taking her own life, and the cycle continues.

Sosie Bacon’s versatile acting as Dr. Cotter is one of the film’s most vital assets. The film starts with Bacon filling the role of a well put together psychiatrist. However, her performance steals the show as she becomes crazier.

“There were scenes where she didn’t even really say that much at all but you totally knew where she was at in her head,” said Robert Stenger, a cinematic camera operator.

The way her eyes water and how she sporadically bursts into anger has the audience hanging on every word, as it’s evident that Dr. Cotter is breaking down from the inside out.

Smile‘s score is superb. The film’s composer, Cristobal de Veer, is known for his work on Netflix’s dystopian horror series Black Mirror. He does a great way of using high-pitched string instruments to make the audience feel unsettled.

Smile’s sound design, in general, is also great. It’s what makes the jump scares work, which frequently follows the formula of a person eerily smiling at the audience. The film’s use of sounds and music makes something as innocent as people smiling scary.

Horror films are known to use many jump cuts to suddenly reveal something utterly terrifying, alleviating the amount of movement the camera has to make in one continuous take. In Smile, director Parker Finn and Head Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff opted for a different approach, having their subject remain still as the camera moves to find them. It’s a unique approach not seen in most horror movies, but it does a great job of keeping the audience on their toes.

The fear found in Smile is the making of the ordinary scary. The walls of the mental hospital where Dr. Cotter works are all painted in bright colors, which you would not expect in a horror movie. But we see some pretty other-worldly scary things at this hospital, making the audience want to look away anytime they cut back to the brightly colored walls. This is only one small example of the psychological horror that Smile is built on, one that makes the audience feel very unsettled throughout the film’s entire runtime.

While a somewhat lackluster, disappointing ending distracts, Smile falls back on its extraordinary score, sound design, cinematography, and Sosie Bacon’s performance to be worth the watch for anyone looking for a fright.

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