Film: Smile

Trailers are usually lost on me—I try to avoid them, since so many telegraph the entire plot—but some previews are so deviously effective they rope you right in. Case in point: Smile (2022). It’s not nearly as terrifying as the ad intimates, but it’s surprisingly crafty, delivering clever horror that isn’t overly ambitious but delivers well on its early promise.

Smile chronicles the nightmarish experiences of Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon), a therapist at a psychiatric hospital. Rose’s life is turned upside when a patient named Laura (Caitlin Stasey) commits suicide in front of her—shortly after beaming a deeply unnerving smile her way. This traumatic experience is just the first of many for Rose, who is subsequently plagued by disturbing visions. With the assistance of her ex, a detective named Joel (Kyle Gallner), she discovers that Laura’s suicide is part of pattern stretching back years, and works to extricate herself from the curse, which seems certain to spell her own doom.

Bearing certain thematic similarities to The Outsider, Smile is a modest but satisfying chiller that wrings eerie vibes out of jarring visual effects, exceptional sound design, and judiciously staged facial expressions, expecially Stasey’s practically iconic, poster-worthy grin. Oh, the plot is predictable and uncomplicated, and it over-relies on industry-standard jump scares, but there are a handful of narrative wrinkles near the end that make it worth the narrative journey. Bacon holds the stage nicely, while the support is solid, with Gallner, Stasey, Rob Morgan, Judy Reyes, and Robin Weigert standing out. It’s not quite a horror classic, but it’s a modest, engaging little shocker that gamely holds it own against stiff contemporary competition in the genre.

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